The Stillwater Tragedy
Thomas Bailey Aldrich
Part 4 out of 5
killed him? A certain speech which Richard had made in Mr. Slocum's
presence not long before came back to him now with fearful
_"Three or four times in my life I have been carried away by a
devil of a temper which I couldn't control, it seized me so
"It seized me so unawares!" repeated Mr. Slocum, half aloud; and
then with a swift, unconscious gesture, he pressed his hands over his
ears, as if to shut out the words.
Margaret must be told. It would be like stabbing her to tell her
all this. Mr. Slocum had lain awake long after midnight, appalled by
the calamity that was about to engulf them. At moments, as his
thought reverted to Margaret's illness early in the spring, he felt
that perhaps it would have been a mercy if she had died then. He had
left the candles burning; it was not until the wicks sunk down in the
sockets and went softly out that slumber fell upon him.
He was now sitting at the breakfast-table, absently crumbling bits
of bread beside his plate and leaving his coffee untouched. Margaret
glanced at him wistfully from time to time, and detected the restless
night in the deepened lines of his face.
The house had not been the same since Lemuel Shackford's death; he
had never crossed its threshold; Margaret had scarcely known him by
sight, and Mr. Slocum had not spoken to him for years; but Richard's
connection with the unfortunate old man had brought the tragic event
very close to Margaret and her father. Mr. Slocum was a person easily
depressed, but his depression this morning was so greatly in excess
of the presumable cause that Margaret began to be troubled.
"Papa, has anything happened?"
"No, nothing new has happened; but I am dreadfully disturbed by
some things which Mr. Taggett has been doing here in the village."
"I thought Mr. Taggett had gone."
"He did go; but he came back very quietly without anybody's
knowledge. I knew it, of course; but no one else, to speak of."
"What has he done to disturb you?"
"I want you to be a brave girl, Margaret,--will you promise that?"
"Why, yes," said Margaret, with an anxious look. "You frighten me
with your mysteriousness."
"I do not mean to be mysterious, but I don't quite know how to
tell you about Mr. Taggett. He has been working underground in this
matter of poor Shackford's death,--boring in the dark like a
mole,--and thinks he has discovered some strange things."
"Do you mean he thinks he has found out whoi killed Mr.
"He believes he has fallen upon clews which will lead to that. The
strange things I alluded to are things which Richard will have to
"Richard? What has he to do with it?"
"Not much, I hope; but there are several matters which he will be
obliged to clear up in order to save himself from very great
annoyance. Mr. Taggett seems to think that--that"--
"Good heavens, papa! What does he think?"
"Margaret, he thinks that Richard knew something about the murder,
and has not told it."
"What could he know? Is that all?"
"No, that is not all. I am keeping the full truth from you, and it
is useless to do so. You must face it like a brave girl. Mr. Taggett
suspects Richard of being concerned, directly or indirectly, with the
The color went from Margaret's cheek for an instant. The statement
was too horrible and sudden not to startle her, but it was also too
absurd to have more than an instant's effect. Her quick recovery of
herself reassured Mr. Slocum. Would she meet Mr. Taggett's specific
charges with the like fortitude? Mr. Slocum himself had been
prostrated by them; he prayed to Heaven that Margaret might have more
strength than he, as indeed she had.
"The man has got together a lot of circumstantial evidence,"
continued Mr. Slocum cautiously; "some of it amounts to nothing,
being mere conjecture; but some of it will look badly for Richard, to
"Of course it is all a mistake," said Margaret, in nearly her
natural voice. "It ought to be easy to convince Mr. Taggett of that."
"I have not been able to convince him."
"But you will. What has possessed him to fall into such a
"Mr. Taggett has written out everything at length in this
memorandum-book, and you must read it for yourself. There are
expressions and statements in these pages, Margaret, that will
necessarily shock you very much; but you should remember, as I tried
to while reading them, that Mr. Taggett has a heart of steel; without
it he would be unable to do his distressing work. The cold
impartiality with which he sifts and heaps up circumstances involving
the doom of a fellow-creature appears almost inhuman; but it is his
business. No, don't look at it here!" said Mr. Slocum, recoiling; he
had given the book to Margaret. "Take it into the other room, and
read it carefully by yourself. When you have finished, come back and
tell me what you think."
"But, papa, surely you"--
"I don't believe anything, Margaret! I don't know the true from
the false any more! I want you to help me out of my confusion, and
you cannot do it until you have read that book."
Margaret made no response, but passed into the parlor and closed
the folding-doors behind her.
After an absence of half an hour she reentered the breakfast room,
and laid Mr. Taggett's diary on the table beside her father, who had
not moved from his place during the interval. Margaret's manner was
collected, but it was evident, by the dark circles under her eyes,
and the set, colorless lips, that that half hour had been a cruel
thirty minutes to her. In Margaret's self-possession Mr. Slocum
recognized, not for the first time, the cropping out of an ancestral
trait which had somehow managed to avoid him in its wayward descent.
"Well?" he questioned, looking earnestly at Margaret, and catching
a kind of comfort from her confident bearing.
"It is Mr. Taggett's trade to find somebody guilty," said
Margaret, "and he has been very ingenious and very merciless. He was
plainly at his wits' ends to sustain his reputation, and would not
have hesitated to sacrifice any onen rather than wholly fail."
"But you have been crying, Margaret."
"How could I see Richard dragged down in the dust in this fashion,
and not be mortified and indignant?"
"You don't believe anything at all of this?"
"Do _you?"_ asked Margaret, looking through and through him.
"I confess I am troubled."
"If you doubt Richard for a second," said Margaret, with a slight
quiver of her lip, "that will be the bitterest part of it to me."
"I don't give any more credit to Mr. Taggett's general charges
than you do, Margaret; but I understand their gravity better. A
perfectly guiltless man, one able with a single word to establish his
innocence, is necessarily crushed at first by an accusation of this
kind. Now, can Richard set these matters right with a single word? I
am afraid he has a world of difficulty before him."
"When he returns he will explain everything. How can you question
"I do not wish to; but there are two things in Mr. Taggett's story
which stagger me. The motive for the destruction of Shackford's
papers,--that's not plain; the box of matches is a puerility unworthy
of a clever man like Mr. Taggett, and as to the chisel he found, why,
there are a hundred broken chisels in the village, and probably a
score of them broken in precisely the same manner; but, Margaret, did
Richard every breathe a word to you of that quarrel with his cousin?"
"He never mentioned it to me either. As matters stood between you
and him, nothing was more natural than that he should have spoken of
it to you,--so natural that his silence is positively strange."
"He may have considered it too unimportant. Mr. Shackford always
abused Richard; it was nothing new. Then, again, Richard is very
proud, and perhaps he did not care to come to us just at that time
with family grievances. Besides, how do we know they quarreled? The
village is full of gossip."
"I am certain there was a quarrel; it was only necessary for those
two to meet to insure that. I distinctly remember the forenoon when
Richard went to Welch's Court; it was the day he discharged Torrini."
A little cloud passed over Margaret's countenance.
"They undoubtedly had angry words together," continued Mr. Slocum,
"and we are forced to accept the Hennessey girl's statement. The
reason you suggest for Richard's not saying anything on the subject
may suffice for us, but it will scarcely satisfy disinterested
persons, and doesn't at all cover another circumstance which must be
taken in the same connection."
"His silence in regard to Lemuel Shackford's note,--a note written
the day before the murder, and making an appointment for the very
night of it."
The girl looked steadily at her father.
"Margaret!" exclaimed Mr. Slocum, his face illuminated with a
flickering hope as he met her untroubled gaze, "did Richard tell
"No," replied Margaret.
"Then he told no one," said Mr. Slocum, with the light fading out
of his features again. "It was madness in him to conceal the fact. He
should not have lost a moment, after the death of his cousin, in
making that letter public. It ought instantly to have been placed in
Coroner Whidden's hands. Richard's action is inconceivable,
"Do not say it!" cried Margaret. "I should never forgive you!"
In recapitulating the points of Mr. Taggett's accusation, Mr.
Slocum had treated most of them as trivial; but he had not been
sincere. He knew that that broken chisel had no duplicate in
Stillwater, and that the finding of it in Richard's closet was a
black fact. Mr. Slocum had also glossed over the quarrel; but that
letter!--the likelihood that Richard kept the appointment, and his
absolute silence concerning it,--here was a grim thing which no
sophistry could dispose of. It would be wronging Margaret to deceive
her as to the vital seriousness of Richard's position.
"Why, why did he hide it!" Mr. Slocum persisted.
"I do not see that he really hid it, papa. He shut the note in a
book lying openly on the table,--a dictionary, to which any one in
the household was likely to go. You think Mr. Taggett a person of
"He is a very intelligent person, Margaret."
"He appears to me very short-sighted. If Richard were the dreadful
man Mr. Taggett supposes, that paper would have been burnt, and not
left for the first comer to pick up. I scorn myself for stooping to
"There is something in the idea," said Mr. Slocum slowly. "But why
did Richard never mention the note,--to you, or to me, or to
"He had a sufficient reason, you may be sure. Oh, papa, how ready
you are to believe evil of him!"
"I am not, God knows!"
"How you cling to this story of the letter! Suppose it turns out
to be some old letter, written two or three years ago? You could
never look Richard in the face again."
"Unfortunately, Shackford dated it. It is useless for us to
blindfold ourselves, Margaret. Richard has managed in some way to get
himself into a very perilous situation, and we cannot help him by
shutting our eyes. You misconceive me if you imagine I think him
capable of coolly plotting his cousin's death; but it is not outside
the limits of the possible that what has happened a thousand times
may have happened once more. Men less impulsive than Richard"--
"I will not listen to it!" interrupted Margaret, drawing herself
up. "When Richard returns he will explain the matter to you,--not to
me. If I required a word of denial from him, I should care very
little whether he was innocent or not."
Mr. Slocum threw a terrified glance at his daughter. Her lofty
faith sent a chill to his heart. What would be the result of a fall
from such a height? He almost wished Margaret had something less of
that ancestral confidence and obstinacy the lack of which in his own
composition he had so often deplored.
"We are not to speak of this to Richard," he said, after a
protracted pause; "at least not until Mr. Taggett considers it best.
I have pledged myself to something like that."
"Has Richard been informed of Mr. Taggett's singular proceeding?"
asked Margaret, freezingly.
"Not yet; nothing is to be done until Mr. Taggett returns from New
York, and then Richard will at once have an opportunity of clearing
"It would have spared us all much pain and misunderstanding if he
had been sent for in the first instance. Did he know that this person
was here in the yard?"
"The plan was talked over before Richard left; the details were
arranged afterwards. He heartily approved of the plan."
A leisurely and not altogether saint-like smile crept into the
corners of Margaret's mouth.
"Yes, he approved of the plan," repeated Mr. Slocum. "Perhaps
he"--Here Mr. Slocum checked himself, and left the sentence flying at
loose ends. Perhaps Richard had looked with favor upon a method of
inquiry which was so likely to lead to no result. But Mr. Slocum did
not venture to finish the suggestion. He had never seen Margaret so
imperious and intractable; it was impossible to reason or to talk
frankly with her. He remained silent, sitting with one arm thrown
dejectedly across the back of the chair.
Presently his abject attitude and expression began to touch
Margaret; there was something that appealed to her in the thin gray
hair fallowing over his forehead. Her eyes softened as they rested
upon him, and a pitying little tremor came to her under lip.
"Papa," she said, stooping to his side, with a sudden rosy bloom
in her cheeks, "I have all the proof I want that Richard knew nothing
of this dreadful business."
"You have proof!" exclaimed Mr. Slocum, starting from his seat.
"Yes. The morning Richard went to New York"--Margaret hesitated.
"He put his arm around me and kissed me."
"Well?" repeated Margaret. "Could Richard have done that,--could
he have so much as laid his hand upon me--if--if"--
Mr. Slocum sunk back in the chair with a kind of groan.
"Papa, you do not know him!"
"Oh, Margaret, I am afraid that that is not the kind of evidence
to clear Richard in Mr. Taggett's eyes."
"Then Richard's word must do it," she said haughtily. "He will be
"Yes, he is to return to-night," said Mr. Slocum, looking away
During the rest of the day the name of Richard Shackford was not
mentioned again by either Margaret or her father. It was a day of
suspense to both, and long before night-fall Margaret's impatience
for Richard to come had resolved itself into a pain as keen as that
with which Mr. Slocum contemplated the coming; for every hour
augmented his dread of the events that would necessarily follow the
reappearance of young Shackford in Stillwater.
On reaching his office, after the conversation with Margaret, Mr.
Slocum found Lawyer Perkins waiting for him. Lawyer Perkins, who was
as yet in ignorance of the late developments, had brought information
of his own. The mutilated document which had so grimly clung to its
secret was at last deciphered. It proved to be a recently executed
will, in which the greater part of Lemuel Shackford's estate, real
and personal, was left unconditionally to his cousin.
"That disposes of one of Mr. Taggett's theories," was Mr. Slocum's
unspoken reflection. Certainly Richard had not destroyed the will;
the old man himself had destroyed it, probably in some fit of pique.
Yet, after all, the vital question was in no way affected by this
fact; the motive for the crime remained, and the fearful evidence
against Richard still held.
After the departure of Lawyer Perkins, who had been struck by the
singular perturbation of his old friend, Mr. Slocum drew forth Mt.
Taggett's journal, and re-read it from beginning to end. Margaret's
unquestioning faith in Richard, her prompt and indignant rejection of
the whole story, had shaken her father at moments that morning; but
now his paralyzing doubts returned. This second perusal of the diary
impressed him even more strongly than the first. Richard had killed
Lemuel Shackford,--in self-defense, may be, or perhaps accidentally;
but he had killed him! As Mr. Slocum passed from page to page,
following the dark thread of narrative that darkened at each remove,
he lapsed into that illogical frame of mind when one looks half
expectantly for some providential interposition to avert the calamity
against which human means are impotent. If Richard were to drop dead
in the street! If he were to fall overboard off Point Judith in the
night! If only anything would happen to prevent his coming back! Thus
the ultimate disgrace might be spared them. But the ill thing is the
sure thing; the letter with the black seal never miscarries, and
Richard was bound to come! "There is no escape for him or for us,"
murmured Mr. Slocum, closing his finger in the book.
It was in a different mood that Margaret said to herself, "It is
nearly four o'clock; he will be here at eight!" As she stood at the
parlor window and watched the waning afternoon light making its
farewells to the flower-beds in the little square front-gardens of
the houses opposite, Margaret's heart was filled with the tenderness
of the greeting she intended to give Richard. She had never been cold
or shy in her demeanor with him, nor had she ever been quite
demonstrative; but now she meant to put her arms around his neck in a
wifely fashion, and recompense him so far as she could for all the
injustice he was to suffer. When he came to learn of the hateful
slander that had lifted its head during his absence, he should
already be in possession of the assurance of her faith.
In the mean while the hands in Slocum's Yard were much exercised
over the unaccountable disappearance of Blake. Stevens reported the
matter to Mr. Slocum.
"Ah, yes," said Mr. Slocum, who had not provided himself with an
explanation, and was puzzled to improvise one. "I discharged
him,--that is to say, I let him go. I forgot to mention it. He didn't
take to the trade."
"But he showed a good fist for a beginner," said Stevens. "He was
head and shoulders the best of the new lot. Shall I put Stebbins in
"You needn't do anything until Mr. Shackford gets back."
"When will that be, sir?"
The unceremonious departure of Blake formed the theme of endless
speculation at the tavern that evening, and for the moment obscured
the general interest in old Shackford's murder.
"Never to let on he was goin'!" said one.
"Didn't say good-by to nobody," remarked a second.
"It was devilish uncivil," added a third.
"It is kind of mysterious," said Mr. Peters.
"Some girl," suggested Mr. Willson, with an air of tender
sentiment, which he attempted further to emphasize by a capricious
"No," observed Dexter. "When a man vanishes in that sudden way his
body is generally found in a clump of blackberry bushes, months
afterwards, or left somewhere on the flats by an ebb tide."
"Two murders in Stillwater in one month would be rather crowding
it, wouldn't it?" inquired Piggott.
"Bosh!" said Durgin. "There was always something shady about
Blake. We didn't know where he hailed from, and we don't know where
he's gone to. He'll take care of himself; that kind of fellow never
lets anybody play any points on him." With this Durgin threw away the
stump of his cigar, and lounged out at the street door.
"I couldn't get anything out of the proprietor," said Stevens;
"but he never talks. May be Shackford when he"--Stevens stopped short
to listen to a low, rumbling sound like distant thunder, followed
almost instantly by two quick faint whistles. "He's aboard the train
Mr. Peters quietly rose from his seat and left the bar-room.
The evening express, due at eight, was only a few seconds behind
time. As the screech of the approaching engine rung out from the dark
wood-land, Margaret and her father exchanged rapid glances. It would
take Richard ten minutes to walk from the railway station to the
house,--for of course he would come there directly after sending his
valise to Lime Street.
The ten minutes went by, and then twenty. Margaret bent steadily
over her work, listening with covert intentness for the click of the
street gate. Likely enough Richard had been unable to find any one to
take charge of his hand-baggage. Presently Mr. Slocum could not
resist the impulse to look at his watch. It was half past eight. He
nervously unfolded The Stillwater Gazette, and sat with his eyes
fastened on the paper.
After a seemingly interminable period the heavy bell of the South
Church sounded nine, and then tolled for a few minutes, as the dismal
custom is in New England country towns.
A long silence followed, unrelieved by any word between father and
daughter,--a silence so profound that the heart of the old-fashioned
time-piece, throbbing monotonously in its dusky case at the foot of
the stairs, made itself audible through the room. Mr. Slocum's gaze
continued fixed on the newspaper which he was not reading. Margaret's
hands lay crossed over the work on her lap.
"What can have kept him?" murmured Margaret.
"There was only that way out of it," reflected Mr. Slocum,
pursuing his own line of thought.
Margaret's cheeks were flushed and hot, and her eyes dulled with
disappointment, as she rose from the low rocking-chair and crossed
over to kiss her father good-night. Mr. Slocum drew the girl gently
towards him, and held her for a moment in silence. But Margaret,
detecting the subtile commiseration in his manner, resented it, and
released herself coldly.
"He has been detained, papa."
"Yes, something must have detained him!"
When the down express arrived at Stillwater, that night, two
passengers stepped from the rear car to the platform: one was Richard
Shackford, and the other a commercial traveler, whose acquaintance
Richard had made the previous evening on the Fall River boat.
There were no hacks in waiting at the station, and Richard found
his politeness put to a severe test when he saw himself obliged to
pilot his companion part of the way to the hotel, which lay--it
seemed almost maliciously--in a section of the town remote from the
Slocums'. Curbing his impatience, Richard led the stranger through
several crooked, unlighted streets, and finally left him at the
corner of the main thoroughfare, within pistol-shot of the red glass
lantern which hung over the door of the tavern. This cost Richard ten
good minutes. As he hurriedly turned into a cross-street on the left,
he fancied that he heard his name called several times from somewhere
in the darkness. A man came running towards him. It was Mr. Peters.
"Can I say a word to you, Mr. Shackford?"
"If it isn't a long one. I am rather pressed."
"It is about Torrini, sir."
"What of him?"
"He's mighty bad, sir."
"Oh, I can't stop to hear that," and Richard quickened his pace.
"The doctor took off his hand last Wednesday," said Peters,
keeping alongside, "and he's been getting worse and worse."
Richard halted. "Took off his hand?"
"Didn't you know he was caught in the rolling-machine at Dana's?
Well, it was after you went away."
"This is the first I've heard of it."
"It was hard lines for him, sir, with the woman and the two
children, and nothing to eat in the house. The boys in the yard have
done what they could, but with the things from the drug-store, and so
on, we couldn't hold up our end. Mr. Dana paid the doctor's bill,
but if it hadn't been for Miss Slocum I don't know what would have
happened. I thought may be if I spoke to you, and told you how it
"Did Torrini send you?"
"Lord, no! He's too proud to send to anybody. He's been so proud
since they took off his hand that there has been no doing anything
with him. If they was to take off his leg, he would turn into one
mass of pride. No, Mr. Shackford, I came of myself."
"Where does Torrini live, now?"
"In Mitchell's Alley."
"I will go along with you," said Richard, with a dogged air. It
seemed as if the fates were determined to keep him from seeing
Margaret that night. Peters reached out a hand to take Richard's
leather bag. "No, thank you, I can carry it very well." In a small
morocco case in one of the pockets was a heavy plain gold ring for
Margaret, and not for anything in the world would Richard have
allowed any one else to carry the bag.
After a brisk five minutes' walk the two emerged upon a broad
street crossing their path at right angles. All the shops were closed
except Stubbs the provision dealer's and Dundon's drug-store. In the
window of the apothecary a great purple jar, with a spray of gas jets
behind it, was flaring on the darkness like a Bengal light. Richard
stopped at the provision store and made some purchases; a little
further on he halted at a fruit stand, kept by an old crone, who had
supplemented the feeble flicker of the corner street lamp with a
pitch-pine torch, which cast a yellow bloom over her apples and
turned them all into oranges. She had real oranges, however, and
Richard selected half a dozen, with a confused idea of providing the
little Italians with some national fruit, though both children had
been born in Stillwater.
Then the pair resumed their way, Peters acting as pioneer. They
soon passed beyond the region of sidewalks and curbstones, and began
picking their steps through a narrow, humid lane, where the water lay
in slimy pools, and the tenement houses on each side blotted out the
faint starlight. The night was sultry, and door and casement stood
wide, making pits of darkness. Few lights were visible, but a
continuous hum of voices issued from the human hives, and now and
then a transient red glow at an upper window showed that some one was
smoking a pipe. This was Mitchell's Alley.
The shadows closed behind the two men as they moved forward, and
neither was aware of the figure which had been discreetly following
them for the last ten minutes. If Richard had suddenly wheeled and
gone back a dozen paces, he would have come face to face with the
Mr. Peeters paused in front of one of the tenement houses, and
motioned with his thumb over his shoulder for Richard to follow him
through a yawning doorway. The hall was as dark as a cave, and full
of stale, moldy odors. Peters shuffled cautiously along the bare
boards until he kicked his toe against the first step of the
"Keep close to the wall, Mr. Shackford, and feel your way up.
They've used the banisters for kindling, and the landlord says he
shan't put in any more. I went over here the other night," added Mr.
After fumbling several seconds for the latch, Mr. Peters pushed
open a door, and ushered Richard into a large, gloomy rear room. A
kerosene lamp was burning dimly on the mantel-shelf, over which hung
a coarsely-colored lithograph of the Virgin in a pine frame. Under
the picture stood a small black crucifix. There was little
furniture,--a cooking-stove, two or three stools, a broken table, and
a chest of drawers. On an iron bedstead in the corner lay Torrini,
muffled to the chin in a blanket, despite the hot midsummer night.
His right arm, as if it were wholly disconnected with his body,
rested in a splint on the outside of the covering. As the visitors
entered, a tall dusky woman with blurred eyes rose from a low bench
at the foot of the bed.
"Is he awake?" asked Peters.
The woman, comprehending the glance which accompanied the words,
though not the words themselves, nodded yes.
"Here is Mr. Shackford come to see you, Torrini," Peters said.
The man slowly unclosed his eyes; they were unnaturally brilliant
and dilated, and seemed to absorb the rest of his features.
"I didn't want him."
"Let by-gones be by-gones, Torrini," said Richard, approaching the
bedside. "I am sorry about this."
"You are very good; I don't understand. I ask nothing of Slocum;
but the signorina comes every day, and I cannot help it. What would
you have? I'm a dead man," and he turned away his face.
"It is not so bad as that," said Richard.
Torrini looked up with a ghastly smile. "They have cut off the
hand that struck you, Mr. Shackford."
"I suppose it was necessary. I am very sorry. In a little while
you will be on your feet again."
"It is too late. They might have saved me by taking the arm, but I
would not allow them. I may last three or four days. The doctor says
Peters, standing in the shadow, jerked his head affirmatively.
"I do not care for myself," the man continued,--"but she and the
little ones--That is what madden s me. They will starve."
"They will not be let starve in Stillwater," said Richard.
Torrini turned his eyes upon him wistfully and doubtfully. "You
will help them?"
"Yes, I and others."
"If they could be got to Italy," said Torrini, after meditating,
"it would be well. Her farther," giving a side look at the woman, "is
a fisherman of Capri." At the word Capri the woman lifted her head
quickly. "He is not rich, but he's not poor; he would take her."
"You would wish her sent to Naples?"
"If you do not pull through, she and the children shall go there."
"Brigida!" called Torrini; then he said something rapidly in
Italian to the woman, who buried her face in both hands, and did not
"She has no words to thank you. See, she is tired to death, with
the children all day and me all night,--these many nights."
"Tell her to go to bed in the other room," said Richard. "There's
another room, isn't there? I'll sit with you."
"Your wife is fagged out,--that is plain. Send her to bed, and
don't talk any more. Peters, I wish you'd run and get a piece of ice
somewhere; there's no drinking-water here. Come, now, Torrini, I
can't speak Italian. Oh, I don't mind your scowling; I intend to
Torrini slowly unknitted his brows, and an irresolute expression
stole across his face; then he called Brigida, and bade her go in
with the children. She bowed her head submissively, and fixing her
melting eyes on Richard for an instant passed into the adjoining
Peters shortly reappeared with the ice, and after setting a jug of
water on the table departed. Richard turned up the wick of the
kerosene lamp, which was sending forth a disagreeable odor, and
pinned an old newspaper around the chimney to screen the flame. He
had, by an odd chance, made his lampshade out of a copy of The
Stillwater Gazette containing the announcement of his cousin's death.
Richard gave a quick start as his eye caught the illuminated
head-lines,--Mysterious Murder of Lemuel Shackford! Perhaps a slight
exclamation escaped Richard's lips at the same time, for Torrini
turned and asked what was the matter. "Nothing at all," said Richard,
removing the paper, and placing another in its stead. Then he threw
open the blinds of the window looking on the back yard, and set his
hand-bag against the door to prevent it being blown to by the
draught. Torrini, without altering the rigid position of his head on
the pillow, followed every movement with a look of curious
insistence, like that of the eyes in a portrait. His preparations
completed for the night, Richard seated himself on a stool at the
foot of the bed.
The obscurity and stillness of the room had their effect upon the
sick man, who presently dropped into a light sleep. Richard sat
thinking of Margaret, and began to be troubled because he had
neglected to send her word of his detention, which he might have done
by Peters. It was now too l ate. The town clock struck ten in the
midst of his self-reproaches. At the first clang of the bell, Torrini
awoke with a start, and asked for water.
"If anybody comes," he said, glancing in a bewildered, anxious way
at the shadows huddled about the door, "you are not to leave me alone
"Him? Whom? Are you expecting any one?"
"No; but who knows? one might come. Then, you are not to go; you
are not to leave me for a second."
"I've no thought of it," replied Richard; "you may rest easy....
He's a trifle light in the head," was Richard's reflection.
After that Torrini dozed rather than slumbered, rousing at brief
intervals; and whenever he awoke the feverish activity of his brain
incited him to talk,--nowe of Italy, and now of matters connected
with his experiences in this country.
"Naples is a pleasant place!" he broke out in the hush of the
midnight, just as Richard was dropping off. "The band plays every
afternoon on the Chiaia. And then the _festas,_--every third day
a festa. The devil was in my body when I left there and dragged
little Brigida into all this misery. We used to walk of an evening
along the Marinella,--that's a strip of beach just beyond the Molo
Piccolo. You were never in Naples?"
"Not I," said Richard. "Here, wet your lips, and try to go to
"No, I can't sleep for thinking. When the Signorina came to see
me, the other day, her heart was pierced with pity. Like the blessed
Madonna's, her bosom bleeds for all! You will let her come
"Yes, yes! If you will only keep quiet, Margaret shall come."
"Margherita, we say. You are to we her,--is it nnot so?"
Richard turned down the wick of the lamp, which was blazing and
spluttering, and did not answer. Then Torrini lay silent a long
while, apparently listening to the hum of the telegraph wires
attached to one end of the roof. At odd intervals the freshening
breeze swept these wires, and awoke a low æolian murmur. The moon
rose in the mean time, and painted on the uncarpeted floor the shape
of the cherry bough that stretched across the window. It was two
o'clock; Richard sat with his head bent forward, in a drowse.
"Now the cousin is dead, you are as rich as a prince,--are you
not?" inquired Torrini, who had lain for the last half hour with his
eyes wide open in the moonlight.
Richard straightened himself with a jerk.
"Torrini, I positively forbid you to talk any more!"
"I remember you said that one day, somewhere. Where was it? Ah, in
the yard! 'You can't be allowed to speak here, you know.' And then I
struck at you,--with that hand they've taken away! See how I remember
"Why do you bother your mind with such things? Think of just
nothing at all, and rest. Perhaps a wet cloth on your forehead will
refresh you. I wish you had a little of my genius for not keeping
"You are tired, you?"
"I have had two broken nights, traveling."
"And I give you no peace?"
"Well, no," returned Richard bluntly, hoping the admission would
induce Torrini to tranquilize himself, "you don't give me much."
"Has any one been here?" demanded Torrini abruptly.
"Not a soul. Good Heaven, man, do you know what time it is?"
"I know,--I know. It's very late. I ought to keep quiet; but, the
devil! with this fever in my brain! . . . . Mr. Shackford!" and
Torrini, in spite of his imprisoned limb, suddenly half raised
himself from the mattress. "I--I"--
Richard sprung to his feet. "What is it,--what do you want?"
"Nothing," said Torrini, falling back on the pillow.
Richard brought him a glass of water, which he refused. He lay
motionless, with his eyes shut, as if composing himself, and Richard
returned on tiptoe to his bench. A moment or two afterwards Torrini
stirred the blanket with his foot.
"I am as grateful--as a dog."
Torrini did not speak again. This expression of his gratitude
appeared to ease him. His respiration grew lighter and more regular,
and by and by he fell into a profound sleep. Richard watched awhile
expectantly, with his head resting against the rail of the bedstead;
then his eyelids drooped, and he too slumbered. But once or twice,
before he quite lost himself, he was conscious of Brigida's thin face
thrust like a silver wedge through the half-open door of the hall
bedroom. It was the last thing he remembered,--that sharp, pale face
peering out from the blackness of the inner chamber as his grasp
loosened on the world and he drifted off on the tide of a dream. A
narrow white hand, like a child's, seemed to be laid against his
breast. It was not Margaret's hand, and yet it was hers. No, it was
the plaster model he had made that idle summer afternoon, years and
years before he had ever thought of loving her. Strange for it to be
there! Then Richard began wondering how the gold ring would look in
the slender forefinger. He unfastened the leather bag and took out
the ring. He was vainly trying to pass it over the first joint of the
dead white finger, when the cast slipped from his hold and fell with
a crash to the floor. Richard gave a shudder, and opened his eyes.
Brigida was noiselessly approaching Torrini's bedside. Torrini still
slept. It was broad day. Through the uncurtained window Richard saw
the blue sky barred with crimson.
"Richard did come home last night, after all," said Mr. Slocum,
with a flustered air, seating himself at the breakfast table.
Margaret looked up quickly.
"I just met Peters on the street, and he told me," added Mr.
"Richard returned last night, and did not come to us!"
"It seems that he watched with Torrini,--the man is going to die."
"Oh," said Margaret, cooling instantly. "That was like Richard; he
never thinks of himself first. I would not have had him do
differently. Last evening you were filled with I don't know what
horrible suspicions, yet see how simply everything explains itself."
"If I could speak candidly, Margaret, if I could express myself
without putting you into a passion, I would tell you that Richard's
passing the night with that man has given me two or three ugly
"Positively, papa, you are worse than Mr. Taggett."
"I shall not say another word," replied Mr. Slocum. Then he
unfolded the newspaper lying beside him, and constructed a barrier
against further colloquy.
An hour afterwards, when Richard threw open the door of his
private workshop, Margaret was standing in the middle of the room
waiting for him. She turned with a little cry of pleasure, and
allowed Richard to take her in his arms, and kept to the spirit and
the letter of the promise she had made to herself. If there was an
unwonted gravity in Margaret's manner, young Shackford was not keen
enough to perceive it. All that morning, wherever he went, he carried
with him a sense of Margaret's face resting for a moment against his
shoulder, and the happiness of it rendered him wholly oblivious to
the constrained and chilly demeanor of her father when they met. The
interview was purposely cut short by Mr. Slocum, who avoided Richard
the rest of the day with a persistency that must have ended in
forcing itself upon his notice, had he not been so engrossed by the
work which had accumulated during his absence.
Mr. Slocum had let the correspondence go to the winds, and a
formidable collection of unanswered letters lay on Shackford's desk.
The forenoon was consumed in reducing the pile and settling the
questions that had risen in the shops, for Mr. Slocum had neglected
everything. Richard was speedily advised of Blake's dismissal from
the yard, but, not knowing what explanation had been offered, was
unable to satisfy Stevens' curiosity on the subject. "I must see
Slocum about that at once," reflected Richard; but the opportunity
did not occur, and he was too much pressed to make a special business
Mr. Slocum, meanwhile, was in a wretched state of suspense and
apprehension. Justice Beemis's clerk had served some sort of legal
paper--presumably a subpoena--on Richard, who had coolly read it in
the yard under the gaze of all, and given no sign of discomposure
beyond a momentary lifting of the eyebrows. Then he had carelessly
thrust the paper into one of his pockets and continued his directions
to the men. Clearly he had as yet no suspicion of the mine that was
ready to be sprung under his feet.
Shortly after this little incident, which Mr. Slocum had witnessed
from the window of the counting-room, Richard spoke a word or two to
Stevens, and quitted the yard. Mr. Slocum dropped into the carving
"Where is Mr. Shackford, Stevens?"
"He has gone to Mitchell's Alley, sir. Said he'd be away an hour.
Am I to say he was wanted?"
"No," replied Mr. Slocum, hastily; "any time will do. You needn't
mention that I inquired for him," and Mr. Slocum returned to the
Before the hour expired he again distinguished Richard's voice in
the workshops, and the cheery tone of it was a positive affront to
Mr. Slocum. Looking back to the week prior to the tragedy in Welch's
Court, he recollected Richard's unaccountable dejection; he had had
the air of a person meditating some momentous step,--the pallor, the
set face, and the introspective eyes. Then came the murder, and
Richard's complete prostration. Mr. Slocum in his own excitement had
noted it superficially at the time, but now he recalled the young
man's inordinate sorrow, and it seemed rather like remorse. Was his
present immobile serenity the natural expression of a man whose heart
had suddenly ossified, and was no longer capable of throbbing with
its guilt? Richard Shackford was rapidly becoming an awful problem to
Since the death of his cousin, Richard had not been so much like
his former self. He appeared to have taken up his cheerfulness at the
point where he had dropped it three weeks before. If there were any
weight resting on his mind, he bore it lightly, with a kind of
In his visit that forenoon to Mitchell's Alley he had arranged for
Mrs. Morganson, his cousin's old housekeeper, to watch with Torrini
the ensuing night. This left Richard at liberty to spend the evening
with Margaret, and finish his correspondence. Directly after tea he
repaired to the studio, and, lighting the German student-lamp, fell
to work on the letters. Margaret came in shortly with a magazine, and
seated herself near the round table at which he was writing. She had
dreaded this evening; it could scarcely pass without some mention of
Mr. Taggett, and she had resolved not to speak of him. If Richard
questioned her it would be very distressing. How could she tell
Richard that Mr. Taggett accused him of the murder of his cousin, and
that her own father half believed the accusation? No, she could never
For nearly an hour the silence of the room was interrupted only by
the scratching of Richard's pen and the rustling of the magazine as
Margaret turned the leaf. Now and then he looked up and caught her
eye, and smiled, and went on with his task. It was a veritable return
of the old times. Margaret became absorbed in the story she was
reading and forgot her uneasiness. Her left hand rested on the pile
of answered letters, to which Richard added one at intervals, she
mechanically lifting her palm and replacing it on the fresh
manuscript. Presently Richard observed this movement and smiled in
secret at the slim white hand unconsciously making a paper-weight of
itself. He regarded it covertly for a moment, and then his disastrous
dream occurred to him. There should be no mistake this time. He drew
the small morocco case from his pocket, and leaning across the table
slipped the ring on Margaret's finger.
Margaret gave a bewildered start, and then seeing what Richard had
done held out her hand to him with a gracious, impetuous little
"I mean to give it you this morning," he said, pressing his lip to
the ring, "but the daylight did not seem fine enough for it."
"I thought you had forgotten," said Margaret, slowly turning the
band on her finger.
"The first thing I did in New York was to go to a jeweler's for
this ring, and since then I have guarded it day and night as
dragonishly as if it had been the Koh-i-Noor diamond, or some
inestimable gem which hundreds of envious persons were lying in wait
to wrest from me. Walking the streets with this trinket in my
possession, I have actually had a sense of personal insecurity. I
seemed to invite general assault. That was being very sentimental,
was it not?"
"That small piece of gold meant so much to me."
"And to me," said Margaret. "Have you finished your letters?"
"Not yet. I shall be through in ten minutes, and then we'll have
the evening to ourselves."
Richard hurriedly resumed his writing and Margaret turned to her
novel again; but the interest had faded out of it; the figures had
grown threadbare and indistinct, like the figures in a piece of old
tapestry, and after a moment or two the magazine glided with an
unnoticed flutter into the girl's lap. She sat absently twirling the
gold loop on her finger.
Richard added the address to the final envelope, dried it with the
blotter, and abruptly shut down the lid of the inkstand with an air
of as great satisfaction as if he had been the fisherman in the
Arabian story corking up the wicked afrite. With his finger still
pressing the leaden cover, as though he were afraid the imp of toil
would get out again, he was suddenly impressed by the fact that he
had seen very little of Mr. Slocum that day.
"I have hardly spoken to him," he reflected. "Where is your
"He has a headache," said Margaret. "He went to his room
immediately after supper."
"It is nothing serious, of course."
"I fancy not; papa is easily excited, and he had had a great deal
to trouble him lately,--the strike, and all that."
"I wonder if Mr. Taggett has been bothering him."
"I dare say Mr. Taggett has bothered him."
"You knew of his being in the yard?"
"Not while he was here. Papa told me yesterday. I think Mr.
Taggett was scarcely the person to render much assistance."
"Then he has found nothing whatever?"
"But anything? Trifles are of importance in a matter like this.
Your father never wrote me a word about Taggett."
"Mr. Taggett has made a failure of it, Richard."
"If nothing new has transpired, then I do not understand the
summons I received to-day."
"I've the paper somewhere. No, it is in the pocket of my other
coat. I take it there is to be a consultation of some kind at Justice
Beemis's office to-morrow."
"I am very glad," said Margaret, with her face brightening.
To-morrow would lift the cloud which had spread itself over them all,
and was pressing down so heavily on one unconscious head. To-morrow
Richard's innocence should shine forth and confound Mr. Taggett. A
vague bitterness rose in Margaret's heart as she thought of her
father. "Let us talk of something else," she said, brusquely breaking
her pause; "let us talk of something pleasant."
"Of ourselves, then," suggested Richard, banishing the shadow
which had gathered in his eyes at his first mention of Mr. Taggett's
"Of ourselves," repeated Margaret gayly.
"Then you must give me your hand," stipulated Richard, drawing his
chair closer to hers.
"There!" said Margaret.
While this was passing, Mr. Slocum, in the solitude of his
chamber, was vainly attempting to solve the question whether he had
not disregarded all the dictates of duty and common sense in allowing
Margaret to spend the evening alone with Richard Shackford. Mr.
Slocum saw one thing with painful distinctness--that he could not
The next morning Mr. Slocum did not make his appearance in the
marble yard. His half-simulated indisposition of the previous night
had turned into a genuine headache, of which he perhaps willingly
availed himself to remain in his room, for he had no desire to see
Richard Shackford that day.
It was an hour before noon. Up to that moment Richard had been
engaged in reading and replying to the letters received by the
morning's mail, a duty which usually fell to Mr. Slocum. As Richard
stepped from the office into the yard a small boy thrust a note into
his hand, and then stood off a short distance tranquilly boring with
one toe in the loose gravel, and apparently waiting for an answer.
Shackford hastily ran his eye over the paper, and turning towards the
boy said, a little impatiently:
"Tell him I will come at once."
There was another person in Stillwater that forenoon whose
agitation was scarcely less than Mr. Slocum's, though it greatly
differed from it in quality. Mr. Slocum was alive to his finger-tips
with dismay; Lawyer Perkins was boiling over with indignation. It was
a complex indignation, in which astonishment and incredulity were
nicely blended with a cordial detestation of Mr. Taggett and vague
promptings to inflict some physical injury on Justice Beemis. That
he, Melanchthon Perkins, the confidential legal adviser and personal
friend of the late Lemuel Shackford, should have been kept for two
weeks in profound ignorance of proceedings so nearly touching his
lamented client! The explosion of the old lawyer's wrath was so
unexpected that Justice Beemis, who had dropped in to make the
disclosures and talk the matter over informally, clutched at his
broad-brimmed Panama hat and precipitately retreated from the office.
Mr. Perkins walked up and down the worn green drugget of his private
room for half an hour afterwards, collecting himself, and then
dispatched a hurried note to Richard Shackford, requesting an instant
interview with him at his, Lawyer Perkins's, chambers.
When, some ten minutes subsequently, Richard entered the
low-studded square room, darkened with faded moreen curtains and
filled with a stale odor of law-calf, Mr. Perkins was seated at his
desk and engaged in transferring certain imposing red-sealed
documents to a green baize satchel which he held between his knees.
He had regained his equanimity; his features wore their usual
expression of judicial severity; nothing denoted his recent
discomposure, except perhaps an additional wantonness in the stringy
black hair falling over the high forehead,--that pallid high forehead
which always wore the look of being covered with cold perspiration.
"Mr. Shackford," said Lawyer Perkins, suspending his operations a
second, as he saluted the young man, "I suppose I have done an
irregular thing in sending for you, but I did not see any other
course open to me. I have been your cousin's attorney for over
twenty-five years, and I've a great regard for you personally. That
must justify the step I am taking."
"The regard is mutual, I am sure," returned Richard, rather
surprised by this friendly overture, for his acquaintance with the
lawyer had been of the slightest, though it had extended over many
years. "My cousin had very few friends, and I earnestly desire to
have them mine. If I were in any trouble, there is no one to whom I
would come as unhesitatingly as to you."
"But you are in trouble."
"Yes, my cousin's death was very distressing."
"I do not mean that." Mr. Perkins paused a full moment. "The
district attorney has suddenly taken a deep interest in the case, and
there is to be a rigorous overhauling of the facts. I am afraid it is
going to be very unpleasant for you, Mr. Shackford."
"How could it be otherwise?" asked Richard, tranquilly.
Lawyer Perkins fixed his black eyes on him. "Then you fully
understand the situation, and can explain everything?"
"I wish I could. Unfortunately, I can explain nothing. I don't
clearly see why I have been summoned to attend as a witness at the
investigation to be held to-day in Justice Beemis's office."
"You are unacquainted with any special reason why your testimony
"I cannot conceive why it should be required. I gave my evidence
at the time of the inquest, and have nothing to add to it. Strictly
speaking, I have had of late years no relations with my cousin.
During the last eighteen months we have spoken together but once."
"Have you had any conversation on this subject with Mr. Slocum
since your return from New York?"
"No, I have had no opportunity. I was busy all day yesterday; he
was ill in the evening, and is still confined to his room."
Mr. Perkins was manifestly embarrassed.
"That is unfortunate," he said, laying the bag on the desk. "I
wish you had talked with Mr. Slocum. Of course you were taken into
the secret of Taggett's presence in the marble yard?"
"Oh, yes; that was all arranged before I left home."
"You don't know the results of that manoeuvre?"
"There were no results."
"On the contrary, Taggett claims to have made very important
"Indeed! Why was I not told!"
"I can't quite comprehend Mr. Slocum's silence."
"What has Taggett discovered?"
"Several things, upon which he builds the gravest suspicions."
"Against me!" cried Richard, recoiling. The action was one
altogether of natural amazement, and convinced Mr. Perkins, who had
keenly watched the effect of his announcement, that young Shackford
was being very hardly used.
Justice Beemis had given Mr. Perkins only a brief outline of the
facts, and had barely touched on details when the old lawyer's anger
had put an end to the conversation. His disgust at having been left
out in the cold, though he was in no professional way concerned in
the task of discovering the murderer of Lemuel Shackford, had caused
Lawyer Perkins instantly to repudiate Mr. Taggett's action. "Taggett
is a low, intriguing fellow," he had said to Justice Beemis; "Taggett
is a fraud." Young Shackford's ingenuous manner now confirmed Mr.
Perkins in that belief.
Richard recovered himself in a second or two. "Why did not Mr.
Slocum mention these suspicions to me?" he demanded.
"Perhaps he found it difficult to do so."
"Why should he find it difficult?"
"Suppose he believed them."
"But he could not believe them, whatever they are."
"Well, then, suppose he was not at liberty to speak."
"It seems that you are, Mr. Perkins, and you owe it to me to be
explicit. What does Taggett suspect?"
Lawyer Perkins brooded a while before replying. His practice was
of a miscellaneous sort, confined in the main to what is technically
termed office practice. Though he was frequently engaged in small
cases of assault and battery,--he could scarcely escape that in
Stillwater,--he had never conducted an important criminal case; but
when Lawyer Perkins looked up from his brief reverie, he had fully
resolved to undertake the defense of Richard Shackford.
"I will tell you what Taggett suspects," he said slowly, "if you
will allow me to tell you in my own way. I must ask a number of
Richard gave a half-impatient nod of assent.
"Where were you on the night of the murder?" inquired Lawyer
Perkins, after a slight pause.
"I spent the evening at the Slocums', until ten o'clock; then I
went home,--but not directly. It was moonlight, and I walked about,
perhaps for an hour."
"Did you meet any one?"
"Not that I recollect. I walked out of town, on the turnpike."
"When you returned to your boarding-house, did you meet any one?"
"No, I let myself in with a pass-key. The family had retired, with
the exception of Mr. Pinkham."
"Then you saw him?"
"No, but I heard him; he was playing on the flute at his chamber
window, or near it. He always plays on the flute when he can't
"What o'clock was that?"
"It must have been after eleven."
"Your stroll was confined to the end of the town most remote from
"Yes, I just cruised around on the outskirts."
"I wish you had spoken with somebody that night."
"The streets were deserted. I wasn't likely to meet persons on the
"However, some one may have seen you without your knowing it?"
"Yes," said Richard curtly. He was growing restive under these
interrogations, the drift of which was plain enough to be
disagreeable. Moreover, Mr. Perkins had insensibly assumed the tone
and air of a counsel cross-examining a witness on the other side.
This nocturnal cruise, whose direction and duration were known only
to young Shackford, struck Lawyer Perkins unpleasantly. He meditated
a moment before putting the next question.
"Were you on good terms--I mean fairly good terms--with your
"No," said Richard; "but the fault was not mine. He never liked
me. As a child I annoyed him, I suppose, and when I grew up I
offended him by running away to sea. My mortal offense, however, was
accepting a situation in Slocum's Yard. I have been in my cousin's
house only twice in three years."
"When was the last time?"
"A day or two previous to the strike."
"As you were not in the habit of visiting the house, you must have
had some purpose in going there. What was the occasion?"
Richard hung his head thoughtfully. "I went there to talk over
family matters,--to inform him of my intended marriage to Margaret
Slocum. I wanted his good-will and support. Mr. Slocum had offered to
take me into the business. I thought perhaps my cousin Lemuel, seeing
how prosperous I was, would be more friendly to me."
"Did you wish him to lend you capital?"
"I didn't expect or wish him to; but there was some question of
"And he refused?"
"Rather brutally, if I may say so now."
"Was there a quarrel?"
"Of course I don't press you," said Mr. Perkins, with some
stiffness. "You are not on the witness stand."
"I began to think I was--in the prisoner's dock," answered
Richard, smiling ruefully. "However, I have nothing to conceal. I
hesitated to reply to you because it was painful for me to reflect
that the last time I saw my cousin we parted in anger. He charge me
with attempting to overreach him, and I left the house in
"That was the last time you saw him?"
"The last time I saw him alive."
"Was there any communication between you two after that?"
"Are you quite positive?"
"As positive as I can be that I live and have my senses."
Lawyer Perkins pulled a black strand of hair over his forehead,
and remained silent for nearly a minute.
"Mr. Shackford, are you sure that your cousin did not write a note
to you on the Monday preceding the night of his death?"
"He may have written a dozen, for all I know. I only know that I
never received a note or a letter from him in the whole course of my
"Then how do you account for the letter which has been found in
your rooms in Lime Street,--a letter addressed to you by Lemuel
Shackford, and requesting you to call at his house on that fatal
"I--I know nothing about it," stammered Richard. "There is no such
"It was in this office less than one hour ago," said Lawyer
Perkins sternly. "It was brought here for me to identify Lemuel
Shackford's handwriting. Justice Beemis has that paper!"
"Justice Beemis has it!" exclaimed Richard.
"I have nothing more to say," observed Lawyer Perkins, reaching
out his hand towards the green bag, as a sign that the interview was
ended. "There were other points I wished to have some light thrown
on; but I have gone far enough to see that it is useless."
"What more is there?" demanded Richard in a voice that seemed to
come through a fog. "I insist on knowing! You suspect me of my
"Mr. Taggett does."
"I am speaking of Mr. Taggett."
"Well, go on, speak of him," said Richard desperately. "What else
has he discovered?"
Mr. Perkins wheeled his chair round until he faced the young man.
"He has discovered in your workshop a chisel with a peculiar break
in the edge,--a deep notch in the middle of the bevel. With that
chisel Lemuel Shackford was killed."
Richard gave a perceptible start, and put his hand to his head, as
if a sudden confused memory had set the temples throbbing.
"A full box of safety matches," continued Mr. Perkins, in a cold,
measured voice, as though he were demonstrating a mathematical
problem, "contains one hundred matches. Mr. Taggett has discovered a
box that contains only ninety-nine. The missing match was used that
night in Welch's Court."
Richard stared at him blankly. "What can I say?" he gasped.
"Say nothing to me," returned Lawyer Perkins, hastily thrusting a
handful of loose papers into the open throat of the green bag, which
he garroted an instant afterwards with a thick black cord. Then he
rose flurriedly from the chair. "I shall have to leave you," he said;
"I've an appointment at the surrogate's."
And Lawyer Perkins passed stiffly from the apartment.
Richard lingered a moment alone in the room with his chin resting
on his breast.
There was a fire in Richard's temples as he reeled out of Lawyer
Perkins's office. It was now twelve o'clock, and the streets were
thronged with the motley population disgorged by the various mills
and workshops. Richard felt that every eye was upon him; he was
conscious of something wild in his aspect that must needs attract the
attention of the passers-by. At each step he half expected the
leveling of some accusing finger. The pitiless sunshine seemed to
single him out and stream upon him like a calcium light. It was
intolerable. He must get away from this jostling crowd, this babel of
voices. What should he do, where should he go? To return to the yard
and face the workmen was not to be thought of; if he went to his
lodgings he would be called to dinner, and have to listen to the
inane prattle of the school-master. That would be even more
intolerable than this garish daylight, and these careless squads of
men and women who paused in the midst of their laugh to turn and
stare. Was there no spot in Stillwater where a broken man could hide
himself long enough to collect his senses?
With his hands thrust convulsively into the pockets of his
sack-coat, Richard turned down a narrow passage-way fringing the rear
of some warehouses. As he hurried along aimlessly his fingers
encountered something in one of his pockets. It was the key of a new
lock which had been put on the scullery door of the house in Welch's
Court. Richard's heart gave a quick throb. There at least was a
temporary refuge; he would go there and wait until it was time for
him to surrender himself to the officers.
It appeared to Richard that he was nearly a year reaching the
little back yard of the lonely house. He slipped into the scullery
and locked the door, wondering if his movements had been observed
since he quitted the main street. Here he drew a long breath and
looked around him; then he began wandering restlessly through the
rooms, of which there were five or six on the ground-floor. The
furniture, the carpets, and all the sordid fixtures of the house were
just as Richard had known them in his childhood. Everything was
unchanged, even to the faded peacock-feather stuck over the parlor
looking-glass. As he regarded the familiar objects and breathed the
snuffy atmosphere peculiar to the place, the past rose so vividly
before him that he would scarcely have been startled if a lean, gray
old man had suddenly appeared in one of the doorways. On a peg in the
front hall hung his cousin's napless beaver hat, satirically ready to
be put on; in the kitchen closet a pair of ancient shoes, worn down
at the heel and with taps on the toe, had all the air of intending to
step forth. The shoes had been carefully blacked, but a thin skin of
mould had gathered over them. They looked like Lemuel Shackford. They
had taken a position habitual with him. Richard was struck by the
subtile irony which lay in these inanimate things. That a man's hat
should outlast the man, and have a jaunty expression of triumph! That
a dead man's shoes should mimic him!
The tall eight-day clock on the landing had run down. It had
stopped at twelve, and it now stood with solemnly uplifted finger, as
if imposing silence on those small, unconsidered noises which
commonly creep out, like mice, only at midnight. The house was full
of such stealthy sounds. The stairs creaked at intervals,
mysteriously, as if under the weight of some heavy person ascending.
Now and then the woodwork stretched itself with a snap, as though it
had grown stiff in the joints with remaining so long in one position.
At times there were muffled reverberations of footfalls on the
flooring overhead. Richard had a curious consciousness of not being
alone, but of moving in the midst of an invisible throng of persons
who elbowed him softly and breathed in his face, and vaguely
impressed themselves upon him as being former occupants of the
premises. This populous solitude, this silence with its busy
interruptions, grew insupportable as he passed from room to room.
One chamber he did not enter,--the chamber in which his cousin's
body was found that Wednesday morning. In Richard's imagination it
was still lying there, white and piteous, by the hearth. He paused at
the threshold and glanced in; then turned abruptly and mounted the
On gaining his old apartment in the gable, Richard seated himself
on the edge of the cot-bed. His shoulders sagged down and a stupefied
expression settled upon his face, but his brain was in a tumult. His
own identity was become a matter of doubt to him. Was he the same
Richard Shackford who had found life so sweet when he awoke that
morning? IT must have been some other person who had sat by a window
in the sunrise thinking of Margaret Slocum's love,--some Richard
Shackford with unstained hands! This one was accused of murdering his
kinsman; the weapon with which he had done it, the very match he had
used to light him in the deed, were known! The victim himself had
written out the accusation in black and white. Richard's brain reeled
as he tried to fix his thought on Lemuel Shackford's letter. That
letter!--where had it been all this while, and how did it come into
Taggett's possession? Only one thing was clear to Richard in his
inextricable confusion,--he was not going to be able to prove his
innocence; he was a doomed man, and within the hour his shame would
be published to the world. Rowland Slocum and Lawyer Perkins had
already condemned him, and Margaret would condemn him when she knew
all; for it was evident that up to last evening she had not been
told. How did it happen that these overwhelming proofs had rolled
themselves up against him? What malign influences were these at work,
hurrying him on to destruction, and not leaving a single loophole of
escape? Who would believe the story of his innocent ramble on the
turnpike that Tuesday night? Who could doubt that he had gone
directly from the Slocums' to Welch's Court, and then crept home
red-handed through the deserted streets?
Richard heard the steam-whistles recalling the operatives to work,
and dimly understood it was one o'clock; but after that he paid no
attention to the lapse of time. It was an hour later, perhaps two
hours,--Richard could not tell,--when he roused himself from his
stupor, and descending the stairs passed through the kitchen into the
scullery. There he halted and leaned against the sink, irresolute, as
though his purpose, if he had had a purpose, were escaping him. He
stood with his eyes resting listlessly on a barrel in the further
corner of the apartment. It was a heavy-hooped wine-cask, in which
Lemuel Shackford had been wont to keep his winter's supply of salted
meat. Suddenly Richard started forward with an inarticulate cry, and
at the same instant there came a loud knocking at the door behind
him. The sound reverberated through the empty house, filling the
place with awful echoes,--like those knocks at the gate of Macbeth's
castle the night of Duncan's murder. Richard stood petrified for a
second; then he hastily turned the key in the lock, and Mr. Taggett
stepped into the scullery.
The two men exchanged swift glances. The bewildered air of a
moment before had passed from Richard; the dullness had faded out of
his eyes, leaving them the clear, alert expression they ordinarily
wore. He was self-possessed, but the effort his self-possession cost
him was obvious. There was a something in his face--a dilation of the
nostril, a curve of the under lip--which put Mr. Taggett very much on
his guard. Mr. Taggett was the first to speak.
"I've a disagreeable mission here," he said slowly, with his hand
remaining on the latch of the door, which he had closed on entering.
"I have a warrant for your arrest, Mr. Shackford."
"Stop a moment!" said Richard, with a glow in his eyes. "I have
something to say."
"I advise you not to make any statement."
"I understand my position perfectly, Mr. Taggett, and I shall
disregard the advice. After you have answered me one or two
questions, I shall be quite at your service."
"If you insist, then."
"You were present at the examination of Thomas Blufton and William
Durgin, were you not?"
"You recollect William Durgin's testimony?"
"He stated that the stains on his clothes were from a certain
barrel, the head of which had been freshly painted red."
"Mr. Taggett, _the head of that barrel was painted blue!"_
Mr. Taggett, in spite of the excellent subjection under which he
held his nerves, caught his breath at these words, and a transient
pallor overspread his face as he followed the pointing of Richard's
finger. If William Durgin had testified falsely on that point, if he
had swerved a hair's-breadth from the truth in that matter, then
there was but one conclusion to be drawn from his perjury. A flash of
lightning is not swifter than was Mr. Taggett's thought in grasping
the situation. In an instant he saw all his carefully articulated
case fall to pieces in his hands. Richard crossed the narrow room,
and stood in front of him.
"Mr. Taggett, do you know why William Durgin lied? He lied because
it was life or death with him! In a moment of confusion he had
committed one of those simple, fatal blunders which men in his
circumstances always commit. He had obliterated the spots on his
clothes with red paint, when he ought to have used blue!"
"That is a very grave supposition."
"It is not a supposition," cried Richard. "The daylight is not a
"You are assuming too much, Mr. Shackford."
"I am assuming nothing. Durgin has convicted himself; he has
fallen into a trap of his own devising. I charge him with the murder
of Lemuel Shackford; I charge him with taking the chisel and the
matches from my workshop, to which he had free access; and I charge
him with replacing those articles in order to divert suspicion upon
me. My unfortunate relations with my cousin gave color to this
suspicion. The plan was an adroit plan, and has succeeded, it seems."
Mr. Taggett did not reply at once, and then very coldly: "You will
pardon me for suggesting it, but it will be necessary to ascertain if
this is the cask which Durgin hoped, and also if the head has not
been repainted since."
"I understand what your doubt implies. It is your duty to assure
yourself of these facts, and nothing can be easier. The person who
packed the meat--it was probably a provision dealer named
Stubbs--will of course be able to recognize his own work. The other
question you can settle with a scratch of your penknife. You see.
There has been only one thin coat of paint laid on,--the grain of the
wood is nearly distinguishable through it. The head is evidently new;
but the cask itself is an old one. It has stood here these ten
Mr. Taggett bent a penetrating look on Richard. "Why did you
refuse to answer the subpoena, Mr. Shackford?"
"But I haven't refused. I was on my way to Justice Beemis's office
when you knocked. Perhaps I am a trifle late," added Richard,
catching Mr. Taggett's distrustful glance.
"The summons said two o'clock," remarked Mr. Taggett, pressing the
spring of his watch. "It is now after three."
"How could you neglect it,--with evidence of such presumable
importance in your hands?"
"It was only a moment ago that I discovered this. I had come here
from Mr. Perkins's office. Mr. Perkins had informed me of the
horrible charge which was to be laid at my door. The intelligence
fell upon me like a thunder-clap. I think it unsettled my reason for
a while. I was unable to put two ideas together. At first he didn't
believe I had killed my cousin, and presently he seemed to believe
it. When I got out in the street the sidewalk lurched under my feet
like the deck of a ship; everything swam before me. I don't know how
I managed to reach this house, and I don't know how long I had been
sitting in a room up-stairs when the recollection of the subpoena
occurred to me. I was standing here dazed with despair; I saw that I
was somehow caught in the toils, and that it was going to be
impossible to prove my innocence. If another man had been in my
position, I should have believed him guilty. I stood looking at the
cask in the corner there, scarcely conscious of it; then I noticed
the blue paint on the head, and then William Durgin's testimony
flashed across my mind. Where is he?" cried Richard, turning swiftly.
"That man should be arrested!"
"I am afraid he is gone," said Mr. Taggett, biting his lip.
"Do you mean he has fled?"
"If you are correct--he has fled. He failed to answer the summons
to-day, and the constable sent to look him up has been unable to find
him. Durgin was in the bar-room of the tavern at eight o'clock last
night; he has not been seen since."
"He was not in the yard this morning. You have let him slip
through your fingers."
"So it appears, for the moment."
"You still doubt me, Mr. Taggett?"
"I don't let persons slip through my fingers."
Richard curbed an impatient rejoinder, and said quietly, "William
Durgin had an accomplice."
Mr. Taggett flushed, as if Richard had read his secret thought.
Durgin's flight, if he really had fled, had suggested a fresh
possibility to Mr. Taggett. What if Durgin were merely the pliant
instrument of the cleverer man who was now using him as a shield?
This reflection was precisely in Mr. Taggett's line. In absconding
Durgin had not only secured his own personal safety, but had
exonerated his accomplice. It was a desperate step to take, but it
was a skillful one.
"He had an accomplice?" repeated Mr. Taggett, after a moment. "Who
"The man who was hurt the other day?"
"You have grounds for your assertion?"
"He and Durgin were intimate, and have been much together lately.
I sat up with Torrini the night before last; he acted and talked very
strangely; the man was out of his head part of the time, but now, as
I think it over, I am convinced that he had this matter on his mind,
and was hinting at it. I believe he would have made disclosures if I
had urged him a little. He was evidently in great dread of a visit
from some person, and that person was Durgin. Torrini ought to be
questioned without delay; he is very low, and may die at any moment.
He is lying in a house at the further end of the town. If it is not
imperative that I should report myself to Justice Beemis, we had
better go there at once."
Mr. Taggett, who had been standing with his head half bowed,
lifted it quickly as he asked the question, "Why did you withhold
Lemuel Shackford's letter?"
"It was never in my possession, Mr. Taggett," said Richard,
starting. "That paper is something I cannot explain at present. I can
hardly believe in its existence, though Mr. Perkins declares that he
has had it in his hands, and it would be impossible for him to make a
mistake in my cousin's writing."
"The letter was found in your lodgings."
"So I was told. I don't understand it."
"That explanation will not satisfy the prosecuting attorney."
"I have only one theory about it," said Richard slowly.
"What is that?"
"I prefer not to state it now. I wish to stop at my boarding-house
on the way to Torrini's; it will not be out of our course."
Mr. Taggett gave silent acquiescence to this. Richard opened the
scullery door, and the two passed into the court. Neither spoke until
they reached Lime Street. Mrs. Spooner herself answered Richard's
ring, for he had purposely dispensed with the use of his pass-key.
"I wanted to see you a moment, Mrs. Spooner," said Richard, making
no motion to enter the hall. "Thanks, we will not come in. I merely
desire to ask you a question. Were you at home all day on that Monday
immediately preceding my cousin's death?"
"No," replied Mrs. Spooner wonderingly, with her hand still resting
on the knob. "I wasn't at home at all. I spent the day and part of the
night with my daughter Maria Ann at South Millville. It was a boy,"
added Mrs. Spooner, quite irrelevantly, smoothing her ample apron with
the disengaged hand.
"Then Janet was at home," said Richard. "Call Janet."
A trim, intelligent-looking Nova Scotia girl was summoned from the
"Janet," said Richard, "do you remember the day, about three weeks
ago, that Mrs. Spooner was absent at South Millville?"
"Yes," replied the girl, without hesitation. "It was the day
before"--and then she stopped.
"Exactly; it was the day before my cousin was killed. Now I want
you to recollect whether any letter or note or written message of any
description was left for me at this house on that day."
Janet reflected. "I think there was, Mr. Richard,--a bit of paper
Mr. Taggett riveted his eyes on the girl.
"Who brought the paper?" demanded Richard.
"It was one of the Murphy boys, I think."
"Did you hand it to me?"
"No, Mr. Richard, you had gone out. It was just after breakfast."
"You gave it to me when I came home to dinner, then?"
"No," returned Janet, becoming confused with a dim perception that
something had gone wrong and she was committing herself.
"I remember, I didn't come home. I dined at the Slocums'. What did
you do with that paper?"
"I put it on the table in your room up-stairs."
Mr. Taggett's eyes gleamed a little at this.
"And that is all you can say about it?" inquired Richard, with a
Janet reflected. She reflected a long while this time. "No, Mr.
Shackford: an hour or so afterwards, when I went up to do the
chamber-work, I saw that the wind had blow the paper off of the
table. I picked up the note and put it back; but the wind blew it off
"Then I shut up the note in one of the big books, meaning to tell
you of it, and--and I forgot it! Oh, Mr. Richard, have I done
"Dreadful!" cried Richard. "Janet, I could hug you!"
"Oh, Mr. Richard," said Janet with a little coquettish movement
natural to every feminine thing, bird, flower, or human being,
"you've always such a pleasant way with you."
Then there was a moment of dead silence. Mr. Spooner saw that the
matter, whatever it was, was settled.
"You needn't wait, Janet!" she said, with a severe, mystified air.
"We are greatly obliged to you, Mr. Spooner, not to mention
Janet," said Richard; "and if Mr. Taggett has no questions to ask we
will not detain you."
Mrs. Spooner turned her small amiable orbs on Richard's companion.
That silent little man Mr. Taggett! "He doesn't look like much," was
the landlady's unuttered reflection; and indeed he did not present a
spirited appearance. Nevertheless Mrs. Spooner followed him down the
street with her curious gaze until he and Richard passed out of
Neither Richard nor Mr. Taggett was disposed to converse as they
wended their way to Mitchell's Alley. Richard's ire was slowly
kindling at the shameful light in which he had been placed by Mr.
Taggett, and Mr. Taggett was striving with only partial success to
reconcile himself to the idea of young Shackford's innocence. Young
Shackford's innocence was a very awkward thing for Mr. Taggett, for
he had irretrievably committed himself at head-quarters. With
Richard's latent ire was mingled a feeling of profound gratitude.
"The Lord was on my side," he said presently.
"He was on your side, as you remark; and when the Lord is on a
man's side a detective necessarily comes out second best."
"Really, Mr. Taggett," said Richard, smiling, "that is a handsome
admission on your part."
"I mean, sir," replied the latter, slightly nettled, "that it
sometimes seems as if the Lord himself took charge of a case."
"Certainly you are entitled to the credit of going to the bottom
of this one."
"I have skillfully and laboriously damaged my reputation, Mr.
Mr. Taggett said this with so heavy an air that Richard felt a
stir of sympathy in his bosom.
"I am very sorry," he said good-naturedly.
"No, I beg of you!" exclaimed Mr. Taggett. "Any expression of
friendliness from you would finish me! For nearly ten days I have
looked upon you as a most cruel and consummate villain."
"I know," said Richard. "I must be quite a disappointment to you,
in a small way."
Mr. Taggett laughed in spite of himself. "I hope I don't take a
morbid view of it," he said. A few steps further on he relaxed his
gait. "We have taken the Hennessey girl into custody. Do you imagine
she was concerned?"
"Have you questioned her?"
"Yes; she denies everything, except that she told Durgin you had
quarreled with the old gentleman."
"I think Mary Hennessey an honest girl. She's little more than a
child. I doubt if she knew anything whatever. Durgin was much too
shrewd to trust her, I fancy."
As the speakers struck into the principal street, through the
lower and busier end of which they were obliged to pass, Mr. Taggett
caused a sensation. The drivers of carts and the pedestrians on both
sidewalks stopped and looked at him. The part he had played in
Slocum's Yard was now an open secret, and had produced an excitement
that was not confined to the clientèle of Snelling's bar-room. It was
known that William Durgin had disappeared, and tdhat the constables
were searching for him. The air was thick with flying projectures,
but none of them precisely hit the mark. One rumor there was which
seemed almost like a piece of poetical justice,--a whisper to the
effect that Rowland Slocum was suspected of being in some way mixed
up with the murder. The fact that Lawyer Perkins, with his green bag
streaming in the wind, so to speak, had been seen darting into Mr.
Slocum's private residence at two o'clock that afternoon was
sufficient to give birth to the horrible legend.
"Mitchell's Alley," said Mr. Taggett, thrusting his arm through
Richard's, and hurrying on the escape the Stillwater gaze. "You went
there directly from the station the night you got home."
"How did you know that?"
"I was told by a fellow-traveler of yours,--and a friend of mine."
"By Jove! Did it ever strike you, Mr. Taggett, that there is such
a thing as being too clever?"
"It has occurred to me recently."
"Here is the house."
Two sallow-skinned children, with wide, wistful black eyes, who
were sitting on the stone step, shyly crowded themselves together
against the door-jamb to make passage-way for Richard and Mr.
Taggett. Then the two pairs of eyes veered round inquiringly, and
followed the strangers up the broken staircase and saw one of them
knock at the door which faced the building.
Richard's hasty tap bringing no response, he lifted the latch
without further ceremony and stepped into the chamber, Mr. Taggett a
pace or two behind him. The figure of Father O'Meara slowly rising
from a kneeling posture at the bedside was the first object that met
their eyes; the second was Torrini's placid face, turned a little on
the pillow; the third was Brigida sitting at the foot of the bed,
motionless, with her arms wrapped in her apron.
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