The Stillwater Tragedy


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 an elderly deaf woman, who came in for a few hours every day to do the housework, 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’seared 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 downstairs be encountered his kinsman ascending.

“ Ah, you have come back! ” was Mr. Shackford’s grim greeting after a second’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 old.

“ I did n’t like the idea of Blandmann and 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 did n’t agree with you, and now you like the idea of Blandmann and 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 blonde-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 delicate 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.

Copyright, 1880, by HOUGHTON, OSGOOD & Co.

“ 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 could not evade taking the hand which Richard had forlornly reached out to him, “but that need n’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 saying 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 helps, — to admit it.”

“ That depends ; it generally does n’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, cousin.”

“ 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 Crusoe ” —

“ 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 — ready boiled, I’ve no doubt—crawled up 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 hand 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 staircase. 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 the shipwrecker mariner, you know.”

“ 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 character.”

“ 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 from 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 to 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 up-stairs, 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 exist.

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. However, 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 his life.

“ If I had stuck to my studies,” reflected Richard while undressing, “ I might have made something of myself, He’s a great fraud, 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 his chamber window. In this dream somebody came to Richard and asked him if he had heard that dreadful thing about young Crusoe.

“ No, confound him ! ” says 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 Saturday.”

“ Why, that’s scandalous ! ” cries 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 the bed, pulling himself together in the broad daylight.

“Well,” be muttered at length, “I should n’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 does n’t crawl ! Do you like it ? ”

“ 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 did n’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 in 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 slop-shop clothes.

“ 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.

“ Why not ? ”

“ Slocum has two.”

Suppose he should happen to want another ? He might.”

“ The Association would n’t allow it.” " What association ? ”

“ The Marble Workers Association, of course.”

They would n’t allow it! How is that ? ”

“ This is 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 does n’t Mr. Slocum own the yard ? I thought he did.”

“Yes, he owns the yard.”

“ If he wished to extend the business, could n’t he employ more hands ? ”

“ As many as he could get, — skilled workmen; but not apprentices.”

“ And Mr. Slocum agrees to that? ” inquired Richard.

“ He does.”

“ 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, would n’t it?”

“ For a day or two, yes. He could send out of town for hands,” suggested Richard.

“And they would n’t come, if the Association said ' Stay where you are.’ They are mostly in the ring. Some outsiders might come, though.”

“ Then what ? ”

“ 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. “ Is n’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 to-night, — at the tavern? ”

“ The tavern ? That did n’t use to be a quiet place.”

“ It is n’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, is n’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 that reef.”

“ 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 all hands.”

“ 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 for 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 swords’ points.

“ 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 shamelessly neglected.”

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 have n’t any, sir. I had a hundred in my sea-chest, but that was lost, — pencilings 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 façade of the Hindoo College at Calcutta,” said Richard, handing him the paper, — “ no, it’s the custom-house. I forget which ; but it does n’t matter.”

The amused look passed gradually out of Mr. Slocum’s countenance as he examined the sketch. It was roughly but cleanly drawn, and full of facility. “ Why, that is 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 tiling. 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 that home.”

“ 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 kinsman.”

“ 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 pointed to a row of new workshops extending the entire length of one side of the marble yard.

“ 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 would n’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 personality 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 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. Is n’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. “ 1 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 hand on the door-knob.

“ No, it is some of my sincerity. I am really obliged to you. You were n’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 easy.

While engaged in this, Richard revolved 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 door-ways 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 the 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. This 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 shall 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 before, 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 Williain 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 should n’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 him.”

“ If you mean me, mother, I ’ll get drunk to-night.”

“ No, no ! ” cried Mrs. Durgin, pleadingly, “I did n’t mean you, William, but Peters and that set.”

I thought you could n’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 the Union.

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 Shackford 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 draw capitally; but nature beats you out and out at designing ferns. Just ask her to make you a pattern 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 leaf, oil the matrix, and pour in fresh plaster. When that is set, cut away the 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-molds 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 and 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 dead of night, with door bolted and curtain down, he would spread out the glittering pieces on the table, and bend over them with an amorous glow in his faded eyes. These were his blonde mistresses ; he took a fearful joy in listening to their rustling, muffled laughter as he drew them towards him with eager hands. If at that instant a blind chanced to slam, or a footfall to echo in the lonely court, then the withered old sultan would hurry his slaves back into their iron-bound seraglio, and extinguish the light. It would have been a wasted tenderness to pity him. He was very happy in his own way, that Lemuel Shackford.


Towards the close of his second year with Mr. Slocum, Richard was assigned a work-room by himself, and relieved of his accountant’s duties. His undivided energies were demanded by the carving department, which had proved a lucrative success.

The rear of the lot on which Mr. Slocum’s house stood was shut off from the marble yard by a high brick wall pierced with a private door for Mr. Slocum’s convenience. Over the kitchen in the extension, which reached within a few feet of the wall, was a disused chamber, approachable on the outside by a flight of steps leading to a veranda. To this room Richard and his traps were removed. With a round table standing in the centre, with the plaster models arranged on shelves and sketches in pencil and crayon tacked against the whitewashed walls, the apartment was transformed into a delightful atelier. An open fire-place, with a brace of antiquated iron-dogs straddling the red brick hearth, gave the finishing touch. The occupant was in easy communication with the yard, from which the busy din of clinking chisels came up musically to his ear, and was still beyond the reach of unnecessary interruption. Richard saw clearly all the advantages of this transfer, but he was far from having any intimation that he had made the most important move of his life.

The room had two doors : one opened on the veranda, and the other into a narrow hall connecting the extension with the main building. Frequently, that first week after taking possession, Richard detected the sweep of a broom and the rustle of drapery in this passage-way, the sound sometimes hushing itself quite close to the door, as if some one had paused a moment just outside. He wondered whether it was the servant-maid or Margaret Slocum, whom he knew very well by sight. It was, in fact, Margaret, who was dying with the curiosity of fourteen to peep into the studio, so carefully locked whenever the young man left it, — dying with curiosity to see the workshop, and standing in rather great awe of the workman.

In the home circle her father had a habit of speaking with deep respect of young Shackford’s ability, and once she had seen him at their table, — at a Thanksgiving. On this occasion Richard had appalled her by the solemnity of his shyness, — poor Richard, who was so unused to the amenities of a handsomely served dinner, that the chill which came over him cooled the Thanksgiving turkey on his palate!

When it had been decided that he was to have the spare room for his workshop, Margaret, with womanly officiousness, had swept it and dusted it and demolished the cobwebs; but since then she had not been able to obtain so much as a glimpse of the interior. A ten minutes’ sweeping had sufficed for the chamber, but the passage-way seemed in quite an irreclaimable state, judging by the number of times it was necessary to sweep it in the course of a few days. Now Margaret was not an unusual mixture of timidity and daring; so one morning, about a week after Richard was settled, she walked with quaking heart up to the door of the studio, and knocked as bold as brass.

Richard opened the door, and smiled pleasantly at Margaret standing on the threshold with an expression of demure defiance in her face. Did Mr. Shackford want anything more in the way of pans and pails for his plaster? No, Mr. Shackford had everything he required of the kind. But would not Miss Margaret walk in ? Yes, she would step in for a moment, but with a good deal of indifference, though, giving an air of chance to her settled determination to examine that room from top to bottom.

Richard showed her his drawings and casts, and enlightened her on all the simple mysteries of his craft. Margaret, of whom he was a trifle afraid at first, amused him with her candor and sedateness, seeming now a mere child, and now an elderly person gravely inspecting matters. The frankness and naïveté were hers by nature, and the oldish ways—notably her self-possession, so quick to assert itself after an instant’s forgetfulness — came perhaps of losing her mother in early childhood, and the premature duties which that misfortune entailed. She amused him, for she was only fourteen ; but she impressed him also, for she was Mr. Slocum’s daughter. Yet it was not her lightness, but her gravity, that made Richard smile to himself.

“ I am not interrupting you ? ” she asked presently.

“ Not in the least,” said Richard. “ I am waiting for these molds to harden. I cannot do anything until then.”

“ Papa says you are very clever,” remarked Margaret, turning her wide black eyes full upon him. “ Are you ? ”

“ Far from it,” replied Richard, laughing to veil his confusion, “ but I am glad your father thinks so.”

“ You should not be glad to have him think so,” returned Margaret reprovingly, “if you are not clever. I suppose you are, though. Tell the truth, now.”

“ It is not fair to force a fellow into praising himself.”

“ You are trying to creep out! ”

“ Well, then, there are many cleverer persons than I in the world, and a few not so clever.”

“ That won’t do,” said Margaret positively.

“ I don’t understand what you mean by cleverness, Miss Margaret. There are a great many kinds and degrees. I can make fairly honest patterns for the men to work by ; but I am not an artist, if you mean that.”

“ You are not an artist ? ”

“ No ; an artist creates, and I only copy, and that in a small way. Any one can learn to prepare casts; but to create a bust or a statue — that is to say, a fine one — a man must have genius.”

“ You have no genius ? ”

“ Not a grain.”

“ I am sorry to hear that,” said Margaret, with a disappointed look. “ But perhaps it will come,” she added encouragingly. “ I have read that nearly all great artists and poets are almost always modest. They know better than anybody else how far they fall short of what they intend, and so they don’t put on airs. You don’t, either. I like that in you. May be you have genius without knowing it, Mr. Shackford.”

“ It is quite without knowing it, I assure you ! ” protested Richard, with suppressed merriment. “ What an odd girl! ” he thought. “ She is actually talking to me like a mother! ”

The twinkling light in the young man’s eyes, or something that jarred in his manner, caused Margaret at once to withdraw into herself. She went silently about the room, examining the tools and patterns ; then, nearing the door, suddenly dropped Richard a quaint little courtesy, and was gone.

This was the colorless beginning of a friendship that was destined speedily to be full of tender lights and shadows, and to flow on with unsuspected depth. For several days Richard saw nothing more of Margaret, and scarcely thought of her. The strange little figure was fading out of his mind, when, one afternoon, it again appeared at his door. This time Margaret had left something of her sedateness behind; she struck Richard as being both less ripe and less immature than he had fancied; she interested rather than amused him. Perhaps he had been partially insulated by his own shyness on the first occasion, and had caught only a confused and inaccurate impression of Margaret’s personality. She remained half an hour in the workshop, and at her departure omitted the formal courtesy.

After this, Margaret seldom let a week slip by without tapping once or twice at the studio, at first with some pretext or other, and then with no pretense whatever. When Margaret had disburdened herself of excuses for dropping in to watch Richard mold his leaves and flowers, she came oftener, and Richard insensibly drifted into the habit of expecting her on certain days, and was disappointed when she failed to appear. His industry had saved him, until now, from discovering how solitary his life really was; for his life was as solitary — as solitary as that of Margaret, who lived in the great house with only her father, the two servants, and an episodical aunt. The mother was long ago dead; Margaret could not recollect when that gray head-stone, with blotches of rusty-green moss breaking out over the lettering, was not in the churchyard; and there never had been any brothers or sisters.

To Margaret Richard’s installation in the empty room, where as a child she had always been afraid to go, was the single important break she could remember in the monotony of her existence ; and now a vague yearning for companionship, the blind sense of the plant reaching towards the sunshine, drew her there. The tacitly prescribed half hour often lengthened to an hour. Sometimes Margaret brought a book with her, or a piece of embroidery, and the two spoke scarcely ten words, Richard giving her a smile now and then, and she returning a sympathetic nod as the cast came out successfully.

Margaret at fifteen — she was fifteen now — was not a beauty. There is the loveliness of the bud and the loveliness of the full-blown flower; but Margaret as a blossom was not pretty. She was awkward and angular, with prominent shoulder-blades, and no soft curves anywhere in her slimness; only her black hair, growing low on the forehead, and her eyes were fine. Her profile, indeed, with the narrow forehead and the sensitive upper lip, might fairly have suggested the mask of Clytie which Richard had bought of an itinerant image-dealer, and fixed on a bracket over the mantelshelf. But her eyes were her speciality, if one may say that. They were fringed with such heavy lashes that the girl seemed always to be in half-mourning. Her smile was singularly sweet and bright, perhaps because it broke through so much sombre coloring.

If there was a latent spark of sentiment between Richard and Margaret in those earlier days, neither was conscious of it; they had seemingly begun where happy lovers generally end, — by being dear comrades. He liked to have Margaret sitting there, with her needle flashing in the sunlight, or her eyelashes making a rich gloom above the book as she read aloud. It was so agreeable to look up from his work, and not be alone. He had been alone so much. And Margaret found nothing in the world pleasanter than to sit there and watch Richard making his winter garden, as she called it. By and by it became her custom to pass every Saturday afternoon in that employment.

Margaret was not content to be merely a visitor; she took a housewifely care of the workshop, resolutely straightening out its chronic disorder at unexpected moments, and fighting the white dust that settled upon everything. The green-paper shade, which did not roll up very well, at the west window was of her devising. An empty camphor vial on Richard’s desk had always a clove pink, or a pansy, or a rose, stuck into it, according to the season. She hid herself away and peeped out in a hundred feminine things in the room. Sometimes she was a bit of crochet-work left on a chair, and sometimes she was only a hair-pin, which Richard gravely picked up and put on the mantel-piece.

Mr. Slocum threw no obstacles in the path of this idyllic friendship; possibly he did not observe it. In his eyes Margaret was still a child, — a point of view that necessarily excluded any consideration of Richard. Perhaps, however, if Mr. Slocum could have assisted invisibly at a pretty little scene which took place in the studio, one day, some twelve or eighteen months after Margaret’s first visit to it, he might have found food for reflection.

It was a Saturday afternoon. Margaret had come into the workshop with her sewing, as usual. The papers on the round table had been neatly cleared away, and Richard was standing by the window, indolently drumming on the glass with a palette-knife.

“Not at work this afternoon?”

“ I was waiting for you.”

“ That is no excuse at all,” said Margaret, sweeping across the room with a curious air of self-consciousness, and arranging her drapery with infinite pains as she seated herself.

Richard looked puzzled for a moment, and then exclaimed, “Margaret, you have got on a long dress ! ”

“Yes,” said Margaret, with dignity. “ Do you like it, — the train ? ”

“ That’s a train ? ”

“Yes,” said Margaret, standing up and glancing over her left shoulder at the soft folds of maroon-colored stuff which, with a mysterious feminine movement of the foot, she caused to untwist itself and flow out gracefully behind her. There was really something very pretty in the hesitating lines of the tall, slender figure, as she leaned back that way. Certain unsuspected points emphasized themselves so cunningly.

“ I never saw anything finer,” declared Richard. “ It was worth waiting for.”

“But you should n’t have waited,” said Margaret, with a gratified flush, settling herself into the chair again. “It was understood that you were never to let me interfere with your work.”

“ You see you have, by being twenty minutes late. I’ve finished that acorn border for Stevens’ capitals, and there’s nothing more to do for the yard. I am going to make something for myself, and I want you to lend me a hand.”

“How can I help you, Richard?” Margaret asked, promptly stopping the needle in the hem.

“ I need a paper-weight to keep my sketches from being blown about, and I wish you literally to lend me a hand, — a hand to take a cast of.”

“ Really ? ”

“ I think that little white claw would make a very neat paper-weight,” said Richard.

Margaret gravely rolled up her sleeve to the elbow, and contemplated the hand and wrist critically.

“ It is like a claw, is n’t it. I think you can find something better than that.”

“ No ; that is what I want, and nothing else. That, or no paper-weight for me.”

“ Very well, just as you choose. It will be a fright.”

“ The other hand, please.”

“ I gave you the left because I’ve a ring on this one.”

“ You can take off the ring, I suppose.”

“Of course I can take it off.”

“ Well, then, do.”

“ Richard,” said Margaret severely, “ I hope you are not a fidget.”

“ A what ? ”

“ A fuss, then, — a person who always wants everything some other way, and makes just twice as much trouble as anybody else.”

“ No, Margaret, I am not that. I prefer your right hand because the left is next to the heart, and the evaporation of the water in the plaster turns it as cold as snow. Your arm will be chilled to the shoulder. We don’t want to do anything to hurt the good little heart, you know.”

“ Certainly not,” said Margaret. " There ! ” and she rested her right arm on the table, while Richard placed the hand in the desired position on a fresh napkin which he had folded for the purpose.

“ Let your hand lie flexible, please. Hold it naturally. Why do you stiffen the fingers so ? ”

“I don’t; they stiffen themselves, Richard. They know they are going to have their photograph taken, and can’t look natural. Who ever does ? ”

After a minute the fingers relaxed, and settled of their own accord into an easy pose. Richard laid his hand softly on her wrist.

“ Don’t move now.”

“ I ’ll be as quiet as a mouse,” said Margaret, giving a sudden queer little glance at his face.

Richard emptied a paper of white powder into a great yellow bowl half filled with water, and fell to stirring it vigorously, like a pastry-cook beating eggs. When the plaster was of the proper consistency he began building it up around the hand, pouring on a spoonful at a time, here and there, carefully. In a minute or two the inert white fingers were completely buried. Margaret made a comical grimace.

“ Is it cold ? ”

“ Ice,” said Margaret, shutting her eyes involuntarily.

“ If it is too disagreeable we can give it up,” suggested Richard.

“ No, don’t touch it! ” she cried, waving him back with her free arm. “I don’t mind ; but it’s as cold as so much snow. How curious ! What does it ? ”

“ I suppose a scientific fellow could explain the matter to you easily enough. When the water evaporates a kind of congealing process sets in, — a sort of atmospherical change, don’t you know ? The sudden precipitation of the — the ” —

“ You ’re as good as Tyndall on Heat,” said Margaret demurely.

“ Oh, Tyndall is well enough in his way,” returned Richard, “ but of course he does n’t go into things so deeply as I do.”

“ The idea of telling me that ‘ a congealing process sets in,’ when I am nearly frozen to death ! ” cried Margaret, bowing her head over the imprisoned arm.

“ Your unseemly levity, Margaret, makes it necessary for me to defer my remarks on natural phenomena until some more fitting occasion.”

“ Oh, Richard, don’t let an atmospherical change come over you ! ”

“ When you knocked at my door, months ago,” said Richard, “ I did n't dream you were such a satirical little piece, or may be you would n’t have got in. You stood there as meek as Moses, with your frock reaching only to the tops of your boots. You were a deception, Margaret.”

“ I was dreadfully afraid of you, Richard.”

“ You are not afraid of me nowadays.”

“ Not a bit.”

“ You are showing your true colors. That long dress, too ! I believe the train has turned your head.”

“ But just now you said you admired it.”

“ So I did, and do. It makes you look quite like a woman, though.”

“ I want to be a woman. I would like to be as old — as old as Mrs. Methuselah. Was there a Mrs. Methuselah?”

“ I really forget,” replied Richard, considering. “ But there must have been. The old gentleman had time enough to have several. I believe, however, that history is rather silent about his domestic affairs.”

“ Well, then,” said Margaret, after thinking it over, “ I would like to be as old as the youngest Mrs. Methuselah.”

“ That was probably the last one,” remarked Richard, with great profundity. “ She was probably some giddy young thing of seventy or eighty. Those old widowers never take a wife of their own age. I should n’t want you to be seventy, Margaret, — or even eighty.”

“ On the whole, perhaps I should n’t fancy it myself. Do you approve of persons marrying twice ? ”

“ N—o, not at the same time.”

“ Of course I did n’t mean that,” said Margaret, with asperity. “ How provoking you can be ! ”

“ But they used to, — in the olden time, don’t you know ? ”

“ No, I don’t.”

Richard burst out laughing. “ Imagine him,” he cried, — “ imagine Methuselah in his eight or nine hundreth year, dressed in his customary bridal suit, with a sprig of century-plant stuck in his button-hole! ”

“ Richard,” said Margaret solemnly, “ you should n’t speak jestingly of a scriptural character.”

At this Richard broke out again. “ But gracious me ! ” he exclaimed, suddenly checking himself. “I am forgetting you all this while ! ”

Richard hurriedly reversed the mass of plaster on the table, and released Margaret’s half-petrified fingers. They were shriveled and colorless with the cold.

“ There is n’t any feeling in it whatever,” said Margaret, holding up her hand helplessly, like a wounded wing.

Richard took the fingers between his palms, and chafed them smartly for a moment or two to restore the suspended circulation.

“ There, that will do,” said Margaret, withdrawing her hand.

“ Are you all right now ? ”

“ Yes, thanks ; ” and then she added, smiling, “ I suppose a scientific fellow could explain why my fingers seem to be full of hot pins and needles shooting in every direction.”

“ Tyndall’s your man — Tyndall on Heat,” answered Richard, with a laugh, turning to examine the result of his work. “ The mold is perfect, Margaret. You were a good girl to keep so still.”

Richard then proceeded to make the cast, which was soon placed on the window ledge to harden in the sun. When the plaster was set, he cautiously chipped off the shell with a chisel, Margaret leaning over his shoulder to watch the operation, — and there was the little white claw, which ever after took such dainty care of his papers, and ultimately became so precious to him as a part of Margaret’s very self that he would not have exchanged it for the Venus of Milo.

But as yet Richard was far enough from all that.

Thomas Bailey Aldrich.