The Stillwater Tragedy
Thomas Bailey Aldrich
Part 5 out of 5
"He is dead," said the priest softly, advancing a step towards
Richard. "You are too late. He wanted to see you, Mr. Shackford, but
you were not to be found."
Richard sent a swift glance over the priest's shoulder. "He wanted
to tell me what part he had played in my cousin's murder?" said
"God forbid! the wretched man had many a sin on his soul, but not
"No; he had no hand in it,--no more than you or I. His fault was
that he concealed his knowledge of the deed after it was done. He did
not even suspect who committed the crime until two days' afterwards,
when William Durgin"--
Richard's eyes lighted up as they encountered Mr. Taggett's. The
priest mistook the significance of the glances.
"No," said Father O'Meara, indicating Brigida with a quick motion
of his head, "the poor soul does not understand a word. But even if
she did, I should have to speak of these matters here and now, while
they are fresh in my mind. I am obeying the solemn injunctions of the
dead. Two days after the murder William Durgin came to Torrini and
confessed the deed, offering to share with him a large sum in gold
and notes if he would hide the money temporarily. Torrini agreed to
do so. Later Durgin confided to him his plan of turning suspicion
upon you, Mr. Shackford; indeed, of directly charging you with the
murder, if the worst came to the worst. Torrini agreed to that also,
because of some real or fancied injury at your hands. It seems that
the implement which Durgin had employed in forcing the scullery
door--the implement which he afterwards used so mercilessly--had been
stolen from your workshop. The next morning Durgin put the tool back
in its place, not knowing what other disposition to make of it, and
it was then that the idea of shouldering the crime upon you entered
his wicked heart. According to Torrini, Durgin did not intend to harm
the old gentleman, but simply to rob him. The unfortunate man was
awakened by the noise Durgin made in breaking open the safe, and
rushed in to his doom. Having then no fear of interruption, Durgin
leisurely ransacked the house. How he came across the will, and
destroyed it with the idea that he was putting the estate out of your
possession--this and other details I shall give you by and by."
Father O'Meara paused a moment. "After the accident at the mill
and the conviction that he was not to recover, Torrini's conscience
began to prick him. When he reflected on Miss Slocum's kindness to
his family during the strike, when he now saw her saving his wife and
children from absolute starvation, he was nearly ready to break the
oath with which he had bound himself to William Durgin. Curiously
enough, this man, so reckless in many things, held his pledged word
sacred. Meanwhile his wavering condition became apparent to Durgin,
who grew alarmed, and demanded the stolen property. Torrini refused
to give it up; even his own bitter necessities had not tempted him to
touch a penny of it. For the last three days he was in deadly terror
lest Durgin should wrest the money from him by force. The poor woman,
here, knows nothing of all this. It was her presence, however, which
probably prevented Durgin from proceeding to extremities with
Torrini, who took care never to be left alone."
"I recollect," said Richard, "the night I watched with him he was
constantly expecting some one. I supposed him to be wandering in his
"He was expecting Durgin, though Torrini had every reason for
believing that he had fled."
Mr. Taggett leaned forward, and asked, "When did he go,--and
"He was too cunning to confide his plans to Torrini. Three nights
ago Durgin came here and begged for a portion of the bank-note;
previously he had reclaimed the whole sum; he said the place was
growing too warm for him, and that he had made up his mind to leave.
But Torrini held on to the money, having resolved that it should be
restored intact to you. He promised Durgin, however, to keep his
flight secret for three or four days, at the end of which time
Torrini meant to reveal all to me at confession. The night you sat
with him, Mr. Shackford, he was near breaking his promise; your
kindness was coals of fire on his head. His agony, lest he should die
or lose his senses before he could make known the full depth of
Durgin's villainy, must have been something terrible. This is the
substance of what the poor creature begged me to say to you with his
dying regrets. The money is hidden somewhere under the mattress, I
believe. A better man than Torrini would have spent some of it,"
added Father O'Meara, waving a sort of benediction in the direction
of the bed.
Richard did not speak for a moment or two. The wretchedness and
grimness of it all smote him to the heart. When he looked up Mr.
Taggett was gone, and the priest was gently drawing the coverlet over
Richard approached Father O'Meara and said: "When the money is
found, please take charge of it, and see that every decent
arrangement is made. I mean, spare nothing. I am a Protestant, but I
believe in any man's prayers when they are not addressed to a heathen
image. I promised Torrini to send his wife and children to Italy.
This pitiful, miserable gold, which cost so dear and is worth so
little, shall be made to do that much good, at least."
As Richard was speaking, a light footfall sounded on the staircase
outside; then the door, which stood ajar, was softly pushed open, and
Margaret paused on the threshold. At the rustle of her dress Richard
turned, and hastened towards her.
"It is all over," he said softly, laying his finger on his lip.
Father O'Meara was again kneeling by the bedside.
"Let us go now," whispered Richard to Margaret. It seemed fit that
they should leave the living and the dead to the murmured prayers and
solemn ministration of the kindly priest. Such later services as
Margaret could render to the bereaved woman were not to be wanting.
At the foot of the stairs Richard Shackford halted abruptly, and,
oblivious of the two children who were softly chattering together in
the doorway, caught Margaret's hand in his.
"Margaret, Torrini has made a confession that sets at rest all
question of my cousin's death."
"Do you mean that he"--Margaret faltered, and left the sentence
"No; it was William Durgin, God forgive him!"
"William Durgin!" The young girl's fingers closed nervously on
Richard's as she echoed the name, and she began trembling.
"That--that is stranger yet!"
"I will tell you everything when we get home; this is no time or
place; but one thing I must ask you now and here. When you sat with
me last night were you aware that Mr. Taggett firmly believed it was
I who had killed Lemuel Shackford?"
"Yes," said Margaret.
"That is all I care to know!" cried Richard; "that consoles me!"
and the two pairs of great inquisitive eyes looking up from the stone
step saw the signorina standing quite mute and colorless with the
strange gentleman's arms around her. And the signorina was smiling!
One June Morning, precisely a year from that morning when the
reader first saw the daylight breaking upon Stillwater, several
workmen with ladders and hammers were putting up a freshly painted
sign over the gate of the marble yard. Mr. Slocum and Richard stood
on the opposite curbstone, to which they had retired in order to take
in the general effect. The new sign read,--Slocum & Shackford.
Richard protested against the displacement of its weather-stained
predecessor; it seemed to him an act little short of vandalism; but
Mr. Slocum was obstinate, and would have it done. He was secretly
atoning for a deep injustice, into which Richard had been at once too
sensitive and too wise closely to inquire. If Mr. Slocum had harbored
a temporary doubt of him Richard did not care to know it; it was
quite enough to suspect the fact. His sufficient recompense was that
Margaret had not doubted. They had now been married six months. The
shadow of the tragedy in Welch's Court had long ceased to oppress
them; it had vanished with the hasty departure of Mr. Taggett.
Neither he nor William Durgin was ever seen again in the flesh in
Stillwater; but they both still led, and will probably continue for
years to lead, a sort of phantasmal, legendary life in Snelling's
bar-room. Durgin in his flight had left no traces. From time to time,
as the months rolled on, a misty rumor was blown to the town of his
having been seen in some remote foreign city,--now in one place, and
now in another, always on the point of departing, self-pursued like
the Wandering Jew; but nothing authentic. His after-fate was to be a
sealed book in Stillwater.
"I really wish you had let the old sign stand," said Richard, as
the carpenters removed the ladders. "The yard can never be anything
but Slocum's Yard."
"It looks remarkably well up thee," replied Mr. Slocum, shading
his eyes critically with one hand. "You object to the change, but for
my part I don't object to changes. I trust I may live to see the day
when even this sign will have to be altered to--Slocum, Shackford &
Son. How would you like that?"
"I can't say," returned Richard laughing, as they passed into the
yard together. "I should first have to talk it over--with the son!"
Back to Full Books