That evening he moved from the Shackford house to Mrs. Durgin's cottage in Cross Street. It was not an imposing ceremony. With a small brown-paper parcel under his arm, he walked from one threshold to the other, and the thing was done.
The six months which followed Richard's installment in the office at Slocum's Yard were so crowded with novel experience that he scarcely noted their flight. The room at the Durgins, as will presently appear, turned out an unfortunate arrangement; but everything else had prospered. Richard proved an efficient aid to Mr. Simms, who quietly shifted the pay-roll to the younger man's shoulders. This was a very complicated account to keep, involving as it did a separate record of each employee's time and special work. An ancient bookkeeper parts lightly with such trifles when he has a capable assistant. It also fell to Richard's lot to pay the hands on Saturdays. William Durgin blinked his surprise on the first occasion, as he filed in with the others and saw Richard posted at the desk, with the pay-roll in his hand and the pile of greenbacks lying in front of him.
"I suppose you'll be proprietor next," remarked Durgin, that evening, at the supper table.
"When I am, Will," answered Richard cheerily, "you will be on the road to foreman of the finishing shop."
"Thank you," said Durgin, not too graciously. It grated on him to play the part of foreman, even in imagination, with Dick Shackford as proprietor. Durgin could not disconnect his friend from that seedy, half-crestfallen figure to whom, a few months earlier, he had given elementary instruction on the Marble Workers' Association.
Richard did not find his old schoolmate so companionable as memory and anticipation had painted him. The two young men moved on different levels. Richard's sea life, now that he had got at a sufficient distance from it, was a perspective full of pleasant color; he had a taste for reading, a thirst to know things, and his world was not wholly shut in by the Stillwater horizon. It was still a pitifully narrow world, but wide compared with Durgin's, which extended no appreciable distance in any direction from the Stillwater hotel. He spent his evenings chiefly there, returning home late at night, and often in so noisy a mood as to disturb Richard, who slept in an adjoining apartment. This was an annoyance; and it was an annoyance to have Mrs. Durgin coming to him with complaints of William. Other matters irritated Richard. He had contrived to replenish his wardrobe, and the sunburn was disappearing from his hands, which the nature of his occupation left soft and unscarred. Durgin was disposed at times to be sarcastic on these changes, but always stopped short of actual offense; for he remembered that Shackford when a boy, amiable and patient as he was, had had a tiger's temper at bottom. Durgin had seen it roused once or twice, and even received a chance sweep of the paw. Richard liked Durgin's rough wit as little as Durgin relished Richard's good-natured bluntness. It was a mistake, that trying to pick up the dropped thread of old acquaintance.
As soon as the permanency of his position was assured, and his means warranted the step, Richard transported himself and his effects to a comfortable chamber in the same house with Mr. Pinkham, the school-master, the perpetual falsetto of whose flute was positively soothing after four months of William Durgin's bass. Mr. Pinkham having but one lung, and that defective, played on the flute.
"You see what you've gone and done, William," remarked Mrs. Durgin plaintively, "with your ways. There goes the quietest young man in Stillwater, and four dollars a week!"
"There goes a swell, you'd better say. He was always a proud beggar; nobody was ever good enough for him."
"You shouldn't say that, William. I could cry, to lose him and his cheerfulness out of the house," and Mrs. Durgin began to whimper.
"Wait till he's out of luck again, and he'll come back to us fast enough. That's when his kind remembers their friends. Blast him! he can't even take a drop of beer with a chum at the tavern."
"And right, too. There's beer enough taken at the tavern without him."
"If you mean me, mother, I'll get drunk tonight."
"No, no!" cried Mrs. Durgin, pleadingly, "I didn't mean you, William, but Peters and that set."
"I thought you couldn't mean me," said William, thrusting his hands into the pockets of his monkey-jacket, and sauntering off in the direction of the Stillwater hotel, where there was a choice company gathered, it being Saturday night, and the monthly meeting of 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 Whackford working for Rowland Slocum at Stillwater was happier than Michaelangelo in Rome with Pope Julius II. at his back. And Richard was the better paid, too!
One day he picked up a useful hint from a celebrated sculptor, who had come to the village in search of marble for the base of a soldiers' monument. Richard was laboriously copying a spray of fern, the delicacy of which eluded his pencil. The sculptor stood a moment silently observing him.
"Why do you spend an hour doing only passably well what you could do perfectly in ten minutes?"
"I suppose it is because I am stupid, sir," said Richard.
"No stupid man ever suspected himself of being anything but clever. You can draw capitally; but nature beats you out and out at designing ferns. Just ask her to make you a fac-simile in plaster, and see how handily she will lend herself to the job. Of course you must help her a little."
"Oh, I am not above giving nature a lift," said Richard modestly.
"Lay a cloth on your table, place the fern on the cloth, and pour a thin paste of plaster of Paris over the leaf,—do that gently, so as not to disarrange the spray. When the plaster is set, there's your mold; remove the leave, oil the matrix, and pour in fresh plaster. When that is set, cut away tdhe mold carefully, and there's your spray of fern, as graceful and perfect as if nature had done it all by herself. You get the very texture of the leaf by this process."
After that, Richard made casts instead of drawings for the carvers, and fancied he was doing a new thing, until he visited some marble-works in the great city.
At this period, whatever change subsequently took place in his feeling, Richard was desirous of establishing friendly relations with his cousin. The young fellow's sense of kinship was singularly strong, and it was only after several repulses at the door of the Shackford house and on the street that he relinquished the hope of placating the sour old man. At times Richard was moved almost to pity him. Every day Mr. Shackford seemed to grow shabbier and more spectral. He was a grotesque figure now, in his napless hat and broken-down stock. The metal button-holes on his ancient waistcoat had worn their way through the satin coverings, leaving here and there a sparse fringe around the edges, and somehow suggesting little bald heads. Looking at him, you felt that the inner man was as threadbare and dilapidated as his outside; but in his lonely old age he asked for no human sympathy or companionship, and, in fact, stood in no need of either. With one devouring passion he set the world at defiance. He loved his gold,—the metal itself, the weight an color and touch of it. In his bedroom on the ground-floor Mr. Shackford kept a small iron-clamped box filled to the lid with bright yellow coins. Often, at the dead of night, with door bolted and curtain 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 blond mistresses; he took a fearful joy in listening to their rustling, muffle 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 center, 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 u 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 form 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 the 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 simplicity 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 strangle 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 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 headstone, 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 mantel-shelf. But her eyes were her specialty, 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 somber 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 shouldn'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's 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."
"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, isn'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 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 atmospheric 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 doesn't go into things so deeply as I do."
"The idea of telling me that 'a congealing process set 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 didn't dream you were such a satirical little piece, or may be you wouldn'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 shouldn't want you to be seventy, Margaret,—or even eighty."
"On the whole, perhaps, I shouldn't fancy it myself. Do you approve of persons marrying twice?"
"N—o, not at the same time."
"Of course I didn'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 hundredth year, dressed in his customary bridal suit, with a sprig of century-plant stuck in his button-hole!"
"Richard," said Margaret solemnly, "you shouldn'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 isn'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 ledgde 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.
Three years glided by with Richard Shackford as swiftly as those periods of time which are imagined to elapse between the acts of a play. They were eventless, untroubled years, and have no history. Nevertheless, certain changes had taken place. Little by little Mr. Slocum had relinquished the supervision of the workshops to Richard, until now the affairs of the yard rested chiefly on his shoulders. It was like a dream to him when he looked directly back to his humble beginning, though as he reflected upon it, and retraced his progress step by step, he saw there was nothing illogical or astonishing in his good fortune. He had won it by downright hard work and the faithful exercise of a sufficing talent.
In his relations with Margaret, Richard's attitude had undergone no appreciable change. Her chance visits to the studio through the week and those pleasant, half-idle Saturday afternoons had become to both Richard and Margaret a matter of course, like the sunlight, or the air they breathed.
To Richard, Margaret Slocum at nineteen was simply a charming, frank girl,—a type of gracious young womanhood. He was conscious of her influence; he was very fond of Margaret; but she had not yet taken on for him that magic individuality which makes a woman the one woman in the world to her lover. Though Richard had scant experience in such matters, he was not wrong in accepting Margaret as the type of a class of New England girls, which, fortunately for New England, is not a small class. These young women for the most part lead quiet and restricted lives so far as the actualities are concerned, but very deep and full lives in the world of books and imagination, to which they make early escapes. They have the high instincts that come of good blood, the physique that naturally fits fine manners; and when chance takes one of these maidens from her island country home or from some sleepy town on the sea-board, and sets her amid the complications of city existence, she is an unabashed and unassuming lady. If in Paris, she differs from the Parisiennes only in the greater delicacy of her lithe beauty, her innocence which is not ignorance, and her French pronunciation; if in London, she differs from English girls only in the matter of rosy cheeks and the rising inflection. Should none of these fortunate transplantings befall her, she always merits them by adorning with grace and industry and intelligence the narrower sphere to which destiny has assigned her.
Destiny had assigned Margaret Slocum to a very narrow sphere; it had shut her up in an obscure New England manufacturing village, with no society, strictly speaking, and no outlets whatever to large experiences. To her father's affection, Richard's friendship, and her household duties she was forced to look for her happiness. If life held wider possibilities for her, she had not dreamed of them. She looked up to Richard with respect,—perhaps with a dash of sentiment in the respect; there was something at once gentle and virile in his character which she admired and leaned upon; in his presence the small housekeeping troubles always slipped from her; but her heart, to use a pretty French phrase, had not consciously spoken,—possibly it had murmured a little, incoherently, to itself, but it had not spoken out aloud, as perhaps it would have done long ago if an impediment had been placed in the way of their intimacy. With all her subtler intuitions, Margaret was as far as Richard from suspecting the strength and direction of the current with which they were drifting. Freedom, habit, and the nature of their environment conspired to prolong this mutual lack of perception. The hour had sounded, however, when these two were to see each other in a different light.
One Monday morning in March, at the close of the three years in question, as Richard mouinted the outside staircase leading to his studio in the extension, the servant-maid beckoned to him from the kitchen window.
Margaret had failed to come to the studio the previous Saturday afternoon. Richard had worked at cross-purposes and returned to his boarding-house vaguely dissatisfied, as always happened to him on those rare occasions when she missed the appointment; but he had thought little of the circumstance. Nor had he been disturbed on Sunday at seeing the Slocum pew vacant during both services. The heavy snow-storm which had begun the night before accounted for at least Margaret's absence.
"Mr. Slocum told me to tell you that he shouldn't be in the yard to-day," said the girl. "Miss Margaret is very ill."
"Ill!" Richard repeated, and the smile with which he had leaned over the rail towards the window went out instantly on his lip.
"Dr. Weld was up with her until five o'clock this morning," said the girl, fingering the corner of her apron. "She's that low."
"What is the matter?"
"It's a fever."
"What kind of fever?"
"I don't mind me what the doctor called it. He thinks it come from something wrong with the drains."
"He didn't say typhoid?"
"Yes, that's the name of it."
Richard ascended the stairs with a slow step, and a moment afterwards stood stupidly in the middle of the workshop. "Margaret is going to die," he said to himself, giving voice to the dark foreboding that had instantly seized upon him, and in a swift vision he saw the end of all that simple, fortunate existence which he had lived without once reflecting it could ever end. He mechanically picked up a tool from the table, and laid it down again. Then he seated himself on the low bench between the windows. It was Margaret's favorite place; it was not four days since she sat there reading to him. Already it appeared long ago,—years and years ago. He could hardly remember when he did not have this heavy weight on his heart. His life of yesterday abruptly presented itself to him as a reminiscence; he saw now how happy that life had been, and how lightly he had accepted it. It took to itself all that precious quality of things irrevocably lost.
The clamor of the bell in the South Church striking noon, and the shrilling of the steam-whistle softened by the thick-falling snow, roused Richard from his abstraction. He was surprised that it was noon. He rose from the bench and went home through the storm, scarcely heeding the sleet that snapped in his face like whip-lashes. Margaret was going to die!
For four or five seeks the world was nearly a blank to Richard Shackford. The insidious fever that came and went, bringing alternate despair and hope to the watchers in the hushed room, was in his veins also. He passed the days between his lonely lodgings in Lime Street and the studio, doing nothing, restless and apathetic by turns, but with always a poignant sense of anxiety. He ceased to take any distinct measurement of time further than to note that an interval of months seemed to separate Monday from Monday. Meanwhile, if new patterns had been required by the men, the work in the carving departments would have come to a dead lock.
At length the shadow lifted, and there fell a day of soft May weather when Margaret, muffled in shawls and as white as death, was seated once more in her accustomed corner by the west window. She had insisted on being brought there the first practicable moment; nowhere else in the house was such sunshine, and Mr. Slocum himself had brought her in his arms. She leaned back against the pillows, smiling faintly. Her fingers lay locked on her lap, and the sunlight showed through the narrow transparent palace. It was as if her hands were full of blush-roses.
Richard breathed again, but not with so free a heart as before. What if she had died? He felt an immense pity for himself when he thought of that, and he thought of it continually as the days wore on.
Either a great alteration had wrought itself in Margaret, or Richard beheld her through a clearer medium during the weeks of convalescence that followed. Was this the slight, sharp-faced girl he used to know? The eyes and the hair were the same; but the smile was deeper, and the pliant figure had lost its extreme slimness without a sacrifice to its delicacy. The spring air was filling her veins with abundant health, and mantling her cheeks with a richer duskiness than they had ever worn. Margaret was positively handsome. Her beauty had come all in a single morning, like the crocuses. This beauty began to awe Richard; it had the effect of seeming to remove her further and further from him. He grew moody and restless when they were together, and was wretched alone. His constraint did not escape Margaret. She watched him, and wondered at his inexplicable depression when every one in the household was rejoicing in her recovery. By and by this depression wounded her, but she was too spirited to show the hurt. She always brought a book with her now, in her visits to the studio; it was less awkward to read than to sit silent and unspoken to over a piece of needle-work.
"How very odd you are!" said Margaret, one afternoon, closing the volume which she had held mutely for several minutes, waiting for Richard to grasp the fact that she was reading aloud.
"I odd!" protested Richard, breaking with a jerk from one of his long reveries. "In what way?"
"As if I could explain—when you put the quotation suddenly, like that."
"I didn't intend to be abrupt. I was curious to know. And then the charge itself was a trifle unexpected, if you will look at it. But never mind," he added with a smile; "think it over, and tell me to-morrow."
"No, I will tell you now, since you are willing to wait."
"I wasn't really willing to wait, but I knew if I didn't pretend to be I should never get it out of you."
"Very well, then; your duplicity is successful. Richard, I was puzzled whre to begin with your oddities."
"Begin at the beginning."
"No, I will take the nearest. When a young lady is affable enough to read aloud to you, the least you can do is to listen to her. That is a deference you owe to the author, when it happens to be Hawthorne, to say nothing of the young lady."
"But I have been listening, Margaret. Every word!"
"Where did I leave off?"
"It was where—where the"—and Richard knitted his brows in the vain effort to remember—"where the young daguerreotypist, what's-his-name, took up his residence in the House of the Seven Gables."
"No, sir! You stand convicted. It was ten pages further on. The last words were,"—and Margaret read from the book,—
"'Good-night, cousin,' said Phoebe, strangely affected by Hepsibah's manner. 'If you being to love me, I am glad.'"
"There, sir! what do you say to that?"
Richard did not say anything, but he gave a guilty start, and shot a rapid glance at Margaret coolly enjoying her triumph.
"In the next place," she continued soberly, after a pause, "I think it very odd in you not to reply to me,—oh, not now, for of course you are without a word of justification; but at other times. Frequently, when I speak to you, you look at me so," making a vacant little face, "and then suddenly disappear,—I don't mean bodily, but mentally."
"I am no great talker at best," said Richard with a helpless air. "I seldom speak unless I have something to say."
"But other people do. I, for instance."
"Oh, you, Margaret; that is different. When you talk I don't much mind what you are talking about."
"I like a neat, delicate compliment like that!"
"What a perverse girl you are to-day!" cried Richard. "You won't understand me. I mean that your words and your voice are so pleasant they make anything interesting, whether it's important or not."
"If no one were to speak until he had something important to communicate," observed Margaret, "conversation in this world would come to a general stop." Then she added, with a little ironical smile, "Even you, Richard, wouldn't be talking all the time."
Formerly Margaret's light sarcasms, even when the struck him point-blank, used to amuse Richard, but now he winced at being merely grazed.
Margaret went on: "But it's not a bit necessary to be circular or instructive—with me. I am interested in trivial matters,—in the weather, in my spring hat, in what you are going to do next, and the like. One must occupy one's self with something. But you, Richard, nowadays you seem interested in nothing, and have nothing whatever to say."
Poor Richard! He had a great deal to say, but he did not know how, nor if it were wise to breathe it. Just three little words, murmured or whispered, and the whole conditions would be changed. With those fateful words uttered, what would be Margaret's probable attitude, and what Mr. Sclocum's? Though the line which formerly drew itself between employer and employee had grown faint with time, it still existed in Richard's mind, and now came to the surface with great distinctness, like a word written in sympathetic ink. If he spoke, and Margaret was startled or offended, then there was an end to their free, unembarrassed intercourse,—perhaps an end to all intercourse. By keeping his secret in his breast he at least secured the present. But that was to risk everything. Any day somebody might come and carry Margaret off under his very eyes. As he reflected on this, the shadow of John Dana, the son of the rich iron-manufacturer, etched itself sharply upon Richard's imagination. Within the week young Dana had declared in the presence of Richard that "Margaret Slocum was an awfully nice little thing," and the Othello in Richard's blood had been set seething. Then his thought glanced from John Dana to Mr. Pinkham and the Rev. Arthur Langly, both of whom were assiduous visitors at the house. The former had lately taken to accompanying Margaret on the piano with his dismal little flute, and the latter was perpetually making a moth of himself about her class at Sunday-school.
Richard stood with the edge of his chisel resting idly upon the plaster mold in front of him, pondering these things. Presently he heard Margaret's voice, as if somewhere in the distance, saying,—
"I have not finished yet, Richard."
"Go on," said Richard, falling to work again with a kind of galvanic action. "Go on, please."
"I have a serious grievance. Frankly, I am hurt by your preoccupation and indifference, your want of openness or cordiality,—I don't know how to name it. You are the only person who seems to be unaware that I escaped a great danger a month ago. I am obliged to remember all the agreeable hours I have spent in the studio to keep off the impression that during my illness you got used to not seeing me, and that now my presence somehow obstructs your work and annoys you."
Richard threw his chisel on the bench, and crossed over to the window where Margaret was.
"You are as wrong as you can be," he said, looking down on her half-lifted face, from which a quick wave of color was subsiding; for the abruptness of Richard's movement had startled her.
"I am glad if I am wrong."
"It is nearly an unforgivable thing to be as wide of the mark as you are. Oh, Margaret, if you had died that time!"
"You would have been very sorry?"
"Sorry? No. That doesn't express it; one outlives mere sorrow. If anything had happened to you, I should never have got over it. You don't know what those five weeks were to me. It was a kind of death to come to this room day after day, and not find you."
Margaret rested her eyes thoughtfully on the space occupied by Richard rather than on Richard himself, seeming to look through and beyond him, as if he were incorporeal.
"You missed me like that?" she said slowly.
"I missed you like that."
Margaret meditated a moment. "In the first days of my illness I wondered if you didn't miss me a little; afterwards everything was confused in my mind. When I tried to think, I seemed to be somebody else,—I seemed to be you waiting for me here in the studio. Wasn't that singular? But when I recovered, and returned to my old place, I began to suspect I had been bearing your anxiety,—that I had been distressed by the absence to which you had grown accustomed."
"I never got used to it, Margaret. It became more and more unendurable. This workshop was full of—of your absence. There wasn't a sketch or a cast or an object in the room that didn't remind me of you, and seem to mock at me for having let the most precious moments of my life slip away unheeded. That bit of geranium in the glass yonder seemed to say with its dying breath, 'You have cared for neither of us as you ought to have cared; my scent and her goodness have been all one to you,—things to take or to leave. It was for no merit of yours that she was always planning something to make life smoother and brighter for you. What had you done to deserve it? How unselfish and generous and good she has been to you for years and years! What would have become of you without her? She left me here on purpose'—it's the geranium leaf that is speaking all the while, Margaret—'to say this to you, and to tell you that she was not half appreciated; but now you have lost her.'"
As she leaned forward listening, with her lips slightly parted, Margaret gave an unconscious little approbative nod of the head. Richard's fanciful accusation of himself caused her a singular thrill of pleasure. He had never before spoken to her in just this fashion; the subterfuge which his tenderness had employed, the little detour it had made in order to get at her, was a novel species of flattery. She recognized the ring of a distinctly new note in his voice; but, strangely enough, the note lost its unfamiliarity in an instant. Margaret recognized that fact also, and as she swiftly speculate don the phenomenon her pulse went one or two strokes faster.
"Oh, you poor boy!" she said, looking up with a laugh, and a flush so interfused that they seemed one, "that geranium took a great deal upon itself. It went quite beyond its instructions, which were simply to remind you of me now and then. One day, while you were out,—the day before I was taken ill,—I placed the flowers on the desk there, perhaps with a kind of premonition that I was going away from you for a time."
"What if you had never come back?"
"I wouldn't think of that if I were you," said Margaret softly.
"But it haunts me,—that thought. Sometimes of a morning, after I unlock the workshop door, I stand hesitating, with my hand on the latch, as one might hesitate a few seconds before stepping into a tomb. There were days last month, Margaret, when this chamber did appear to me like a tomb. All that was happy in my past seemed to lie buried here; it was something visible and tangible; I used to steal in and look upon it."
"If you only knew what a life I led as a boy in my cousin's house, and what a doleful existence for years afterwards, until I found you, perhaps you would understand my despair when I saw everything suddenly slipping away from me. Margaret! the day your father brought you in here, I had all I could do not to kneel down at your feet"—Richard stopped short. "I didn't mean to tell you that," he added, turning towards the work-table. Then he checked himself, and came and stood in front of her again. He had gone too far not to go further. "While you were ill I made a great discovery."
"What was that, Richard?"
"I discovered that I had been blind for two or three years."
"Blind?" repeated Margaret.
"Stone-blind. I discovered it by suddenly seeing—by seeing that I had loved you all the while, Margaret! Are you offended?"
"No," said Margaret, slowly; she was a moment finding her voice to say it. "I—ought I to be offended?"
"Not if you are not!" said Richard.
"Then I am note. I—I've made little discoveries myself," murmured Margaret, going into full mourning with her eyelashes.
But it was only for an instant. She refused to take her happiness shyly or insincerely; it was something too sacred. She was a trifle appalled by it, if the truth must be told. If Richard had scattered his love-making through the month of her convalescence, or if he had made his avowal in a different mood, perhaps Margaret might have met him with some natural coquetry. But Richard's tone and manner had been such as to suppress any instinct of the kind. His declaration, moreover, had amazed her. Margaret's own feelings had been more or less plain to her that past month, and she had diligently disciplined herself to accept Richard's friendship, since it seemed all he had to give. Indeed, it had seemed at times as if he had not even that.
When Margaret lifted her eyes to him, a second after her confession, they were full of a sweet seriousness, and she had no thought of withdrawing the hands which Richard had taken, and was holding lightly, that she might withdraw them if she willed. She felt no impulse to do so, though as Margaret looked up she saw her father standing a few paces behind Richard.
With an occult sense of another presence in the room, Richard, turned at the same instant.
Mr. Slocum had advanced two steps into the apartment, and had been brought to a dead halt by the surprising tableau in the embrasure of the window. He stood motionless, with an account-book under his arm, while a dozen expressions chased each other over his countenance.
"Mr. Slocum," said Richard, who saw that only one course lay open to him, "I love Margaret, and I have been telling her."
At that the flitting shadows on Mr. Slocum's face settled into one grave look. He did not reply immediately, but let his glance wander from Margaret to Richard, and back again to Margaret, slowly digesting the fact. It was evident he had not relished it. Meanwhile the girl had risen from the chair and was moving towards her father.
"This strikes me as very extraordinary," he said at last. "You have never given any intimation that such a feeling existed. How long has this been going on?"
"I have always been fond of Margaret, sir; but I was not aware of the strength of the attachment until the time of her illness, when I—that is, we—came near to losing her."
"And you, Margaret?"
As Mr. Slocum spoke he instinctively put one arm around Margaret, who had crept closely to his side.
"I don't know when I began to love Richard," said Margaret simply.
"You don't know!"
"Perhaps it was while I was ill; perhaps it was long before that; may be my liking for him commenced as far back as the time he made the cast of my hand. How can I tell, papa? I don't know."
"There appears to be an amazing diffusion of ignorance here!"
Margaret bit her lip, and kept still. Her father was taking it a great deal more seriously than she had expected. A long, awkward silence ensued. Richard broke it at last by remarking uneasily, "Nothing has been or was to be concealed from you. Before going to sleep to-night, Margaret would have told you all I've said to her."
"You should have consulted with me before saying anything."
"I intended to do so, but my words got away from me. I hope you will overlook it, sir, and not oppose my loving Margaret, though I see as plainly as you do that I am not worthy of her."
"I have not said that. I base my disapproval on entirely different ground. Margaret is too young. A girl of seventeen or eighteen"—
"Nineteen," said Margaret, parenthetically.
"Of nineteen, then,—has no business to bother her head with such matters. Only yesterday she was a child!"
Richard glanced across at Margaret, and endeavored to recall her as she impressed him that first afternoon, when she knocked defiantly at the workshop door to inquire if he wanted any pans and pails; but he was totally unable to reconstruct that crude little figure with the glossy black head, all eyes and beak, like a young hawk's.
"My objection is impersonal," continued Mr. Slocum. "I object to the idea. I wish this had not happened. I might not have disliked it—years hence; I don't say; but I dislike it now."
Richard's face brightened. "It will be years hence in a few years!"
Mr. Slocum replied with a slow, grave smile, "I am not going to be unreasonable in a matter where I find Margaret's happiness concerned; and yours, Richard, I care for that, too; but I'll have no entanglements. You and she are to be good friends, and nothing beyond. I prefer that Margaret should not come to the studio so often; you shall see her whenever you like at our fireside, of an evening. I don't think the conditions hard."
Mr. Slocum had dictated terms, but it was virtually a surrender. Margaret listened to him with her cheek resting against his arm, and a warm light nestled down deep under her eyelids.
Mr. Slocum drew a half-pathetic sigh. "I presume I have not done wisely. Every one bullies me. The Marble Workers' Association ruins my yard for me, and now my daughter is taken off my hands. By the way, Richard," he said, interrupting himself brusquely, and with an air of dismissing the subject, "I forgot what I came for. I've been thinking over Torrini's case, and have concluded that you had better make up his account and discharge him."
"Certainly, sir," replied Richard, with a shadow of dissent in his manner, "if you wish it."
"He causes a deal of trouble in the yard."
"I am afraid he does. Sucha clean workman when he's sober!"
"But he is never sober."
"He has been in a bad way lately, I admit."
"His example demoralizes the men. I can see it day by day."
"I wish he were not so necessary at this moment," observed Richard. "I don't know who else could be trusted with the frieze for the Soldiers' Monument. I'd like to keep him on a week or ten days longer. Suppose I have a plain talk with Torrini?"
"Surely we have enough good hands to stand the loss of one."
"For a special kind of work there is nobody in the yard like Torrini. That is one reason why I want to hold on to him for a while, and there are other reasons."
"Such as what?"
"Well, I think it would not be wholly politic to break with him just now."
"Why not now as well as any time?"
"He has lately been elected secretary of the Association."
"What of that?"
"He has a great deal of influence there."
"If we put him out of the works it seems to me he would lose his importance, if he really has any to speak of."
"You are mistaken if you doubt it. His position gives him a chance to do much mischief, and he would avail himself of it very adroitly, if he had a personal grievance."
"I believe you are actually afraid of the fellow."
Richard smiled. "No, I am not afraid of him, but I don't underrate him. The men look up to Torrini as a sort of leader; he's an effective speaker, and knows very well how to fan a dissatisfaction. Either he or some other disturbing element has recently been at work among the men. There's considerable grumbling in the yard."
"They are always grumbling, aren't they?"
"Most always, but this is more serious than usual; there appears to be a general stir among the trades in the village. I don't understand it clearly. The marble workers have been holding secret meetings."
"They mean business, you think?"
"They mean increased wages, perhaps."
"But we are now paying from five to ten per cent more than any trade in the place. What are they after?"
"So far as I can gather, sir, the finishers and the slab-sawers want an advance,—I don't know how much. Then there's some talk about having the yard closed an hour earlier on Saturdays. All this is merely rumor; but I am sure there is something in it."
"Confound the whole lot! If we can't discharge a drunken hand without raising the pay of all t he rest, we had better turn over the entire business to the Association. But do as you like, Richard. You see how I am bullied, Margaret. He runs everything! Come, dear."
And Mr. Slocum quitted the workshop, taking Margaret with him. Richard remained standing awhile by the table, in a deep study, with his eyes fixed on the floor. He thought of his early days in the sepulchral house in Welch's Court, of his wanderings abroad, his long years of toil since then, and this sudden blissful love that had come to him, and Mr. Slocum's generosity. Then he thought of Torrini, and went down into the yard gently to admonish the man, for Richard' heart that hour was full of kindness for all the world.
In spite of Mr. Slocum's stipulations respecting the frequency of Margaret's visits to the studio, she was free to come and go as she liked. It was easy for him to say, Be good friends, and nothing beyond; but after that day in the workshop it was impossible for Richard and Margaret to be anything but lovers. The hollowness of pretending otherwise was clear even to Mr. Slocum. In the love of a father for a daughter there is always a vague jealousy which refuses to render a coherent explanation of itself. Mr. Slocum did not escape this, but he managed, nevertheless, to accept the inevitable with very fair grace, and presently to confess to himself that the occurrence which had at first taken him aback was the most natural in the world. That Margaret and Richard, thrown together as they had been, should end by falling in love with each other was not a result to justify much surprise. Indeed, there was a special propriety in their doing so. The Shackfords had always been reputable people in the village,—down to Lemuel Shackford, who of course as an old musk-rat. The family attributes of amiability and honesty had skipped him, but they had reappeared in Richard. It was through his foresight and personal energy that the most lucrative branch of the trade had been established. His services entitled him to a future interest in the business, and Mr. Slocum had intended he should have it. Mr. Slocum had not dreamed of throwing in Margaret also; but since that addition had suggested itself, it seemed to him one of the happy features of the arrangement. Richard would thus be doubly identified with the yard, to which, in fact, he had become more necessary than Mr. Slocum himself.
"He has more backbone with the men than I have," acknowledged Mr. Slocum. "He knows how to manage them, and I don't."
As soft as Slocum was a Stillwater proverb. Richard certainly had plenty of backbone; it was his only capital. In Mr. Slocum's estimation it was sufficient capital. But Lemuel Shackford was a very rich man, and Mr. Slocum could not avoid seeing that it would be decent in Richard's only surviving relative if, at this juncture, he were to display a little interest in the young fellow's welfare.
"If he would only offer to advance a few thousand dollars for Richard," said Mr. Slocum, one evening, to Margaret, with whom he had been talking over the future—"the property must all come to him some time,—it would be a vast satisfaction to me to tell the old man that we can get along without any of his ill-gotten gains. He made the bulk of his fortune during the war, you know. The old sea-serpent," continued Mr. Slocum, with hopeless confusion of metaphor, "had a hand in fitting out more than one blockade-runner. They used to talk of a ship that got away from Charleston with a cargo of cotton that netted the share-holders upwards of two hundred thousand dollars. He denies it now, but everybody knows Shackford. He'd betray his country for fifty cents in postage-stamps."
"Oh, papa! you are too hard on him."
In words dropped cursorily from time to time, Margaret imparted to Richard the substance of her father's speech, and it set Richard reflecting. It was not among the probabilities that Lemuel Shackford would advance a dollar to establish Richard, but if he could induce his cousin even to take the matter into consideration, Richard felt that it would be a kind of moral support to him circumstanced as he was. His pride revolted at the idea of coming quite unbacked and disowned, as well as empty-handed, to Mr. Slocum.
For the last twelve months there had been a cessation of ordinary courtesies between the two cousins. They now passed each other on the street without recognition. A year previously Mr. Shackford had fallen ill, and Richard, aware of the inefficient domestic arrangements in Welch's Court, had gone to the house out of sheer pity. The old man was in bed, and weak with fever, but at seeing Richard he managed to raise himself on one elbow.
"Oh, it's you!" he exclaimed, mockingly. "When a rich man is sick the anxious heirs crowd around him; but they're twice as honestly anxious when he is perfectly well."
"I came to see if I could do anything for you!" cried Richard, with a ferocious glare, and in a tone that went curiously with his words, and shook to the foundations his character of Good Samaritan.
"The only thing you can do for me is to go away."
"I'll do that with pleasure," retorted Richard bitterly.
And Richard went, vowing he would never set foot across the threshold again. He could not help having ugly thoughts. Why should all the efforts to bring about a reconciliation and all the forbearance be on his side? Thenceforth the crabbed old man might go to perdition if he wanted to.
And now here was Richard meditating a visit to that same house to beg a favor!
Nothing but his love for Margaret could have dragged him to such a banquet of humble-pie as he knew was spread for his delectation, the morning he passed up the main street of Stillwater and turned into Welch's Court.
As Richard laid his hand on the latch of the gate, Mr. Shackford, who was digging in the front garden, looked up and saw him. Without paying any heed to Richard's amicable salutation, the old man left the shove sticking in the sod, and walked stiffly into the house. At another moment this would have amused Richard, but now he gravely followed his kinsman, and overtook him at the foot of the staircase.
"Cousin Shackford, can you spare me five or ten minutes?"
"Don't know as I can," said Mr. Shackford, with one foot on the lower stair. "Time is valuable. What do you want? You want something."
"Certainly, or I wouldn't think of trespassing on your time."
"Has Slocum thrown you over?" inquired the old man, turning quickly. A straw which he held between his thin lips helped to give him a singularly alert expression.
"No; Mr. Slocum and I agree the best in the world. I want to talk with you briefly on certain matters; I want to be on decent terms with you, if you will let me."
"Decent terms means money, doesn't it?" asked Mr. Shackford, with a face as wary and lean as a shark's.
"I do wish to talk about money, among other things," returned Richard, whom this brutal directness disconcerted a little,—"money on satisfactory security."
"You can get it anywhere with that."
"So I might, and be asking no favor; but I would rather get it of you, and consider it an obligation."
"I would rather you wouldn't."
"Listen to me a moment."
"Well, I'm listening."
Mr. Shackford stood in an attitude of attention, with his head canted on one side, his eyes fixed on the ceiling, and the straw between his teeth tilted up at an angle of forty degrees.
"I have, as you know, worked my way in the marble yard to the position of general manager," began Richard.
"I didn't know," said Mr. Shackford, "but I understand. You're a sort of head grave-stone maker."
"That is taking a rather gloomy view of it," said Richard, "but no matter. The point is, I hold a responsible position, and I now have a chance to purchase a share in the works."
"Slocum is willing to take you in, eh?"
"Then the concern is hit."
"Slocum is going into bankruptcy."
"You are wrong there. The yard was never so prosperous; the coming year we shall coin money like a mint."
"You ought to know," said Mr. Shackford, ruminatively. "A thing as good as a mint must be a good thing."
"If I were a partner in the business, I could marry Margaret."
"Mr. Slocum's daughter."
"That's where the wind is! Now how much capital would it take to do all that?" inquired Mr. Shackford, with an air of affable speculation.
"Three or four thousand dollars,—perhaps less."
"Well, I wouldn't give three or four cents to have you marry Slocum's daughter. Richard, you can't pull any chestnuts out of the fire with my paw."
Mr. Shackford's interrogation and his more than usual conciliatory manner had lighted a hope which Richard had not brought with him. Its sudden extinguishment was in consequence doubly aggravating.
"Slocum's daughter!" repeated Mr. Shackford. "I'd as soon you would marry Crazy Nan up at the work-house."
The association of Crazy Nan with Margaret sent a red flush into Richard's cheek. He turned angrily towards the door, and then halted, recollecting the resolve he had made not to lose his temper, come what would. If the interview was to end there it had better not have taken place.
"I had no expectation that you would assist me pecuniarily," said Richard, after a moment. "Let us drop the money question; it shouldn't have come up between us. I want you to aid me, not by lending me money, but by giving me your countenance as the head of the family,—by showing a natural interest in my affairs, and seeming disposed to promote them."
"By just seeming?"
"That is really all I desire. If you were to propose to put capital into the concern, Mr. Slocum would refuse it."
"Slocum would refuse it! Why in the devil should he refuse it?"
"Because"—Richard hesitated, finding himself unexpectedly on delicate ground—"because he would not care to enter into business relations with you, under the circumstances."
Mr. Shackford removed the straw from his mouth, and holding it between his thumb and forefinger peered steadily through his half-closed eyelids at Richard.
"I don't understand you."
"The dispute you had long ago, over the piece of meadow land behind the marble yard. Mr. Slocum felt that you bore on him rather heavily in that matter, and has not quite forgiven you for forcing him to rebuild the sheds."
"Bother Slocum and his sheds! I understand him. What I don't understand is you. I am to offer Slocum three or four thousand dollars to set you up, and he is to decline to take it. Is that it?"
"That is not it at all," returned Richard. "My statement was this: If you were to propose purchasing a share for me in the works, Mr. Slocum would not entertain the proposition, thinking—as I don't think—that he would mortify you by the refusal of your money."
"The only way Slocum could mortify me would be by getting hold of it. But what are you driving at, anyhow? In one breath you demand several thousand dollars, and in the next breath you tell me that nobody expects it, or wants it, or could be induced to have it on any terms. Perhaps you will inform me what you are here for?"
"That is what you will never discover!" cried Richard. "It is not in you to comprehend the ties of sympathy that ought to hold between two persons situated as we are. In most families this sympathy binds closely at times,—at christenings, or burials, or when some member is about to take an important step in life. Generally speaking, blood is thicker than water; but your blood, cousin Shackford, seems to be a good deal thinner. I came here to consult with you as my sole remaining kinsman, as one authorized by years and position to give me wise counsel and kindly encouragement at the turning point in my fortune. I didn't wish to go among those people like a tramp, with neither kith nor kin to say a word for me. Of course you don't understand that. How should you? A sentiment of that kind is something quite beyond your conception."
Richard's words went into one ear and out the other, without seeming for an instant to arrest Mr. Shackford's attention. The idea of Slocum not accepting money—anybody's money—presented itself to Mr. Shackford in so facetious a light as nearly to throw him into good humor. His foot was on the first step of the staircase, which he now began slowly to mount, giving vent, as he ascended, to a serious of indescribable chuckles. At the top of the landing he halted, and leaned over the rail.
"To think of Slocum refusing,—that's a good one!"
In the midst of his jocularity a sudden thought seemed to strike Mr. Shackford; his features underwent a swift transformation, and as he grasped the rail in front of him with both hands a malicious cunning writhed and squirmed in every wrinkle of his face.
"Sir!" he shrieked, "it was a trap! Slocum would have taken it! If I had been ass enough to make any such offer, he would have jumped at it. What do you and Slocum take me for? You're a pair of rascals!"
Richard staggered back, bewildered and blinded, as if he had received a blow in the eyes.
"No," continued Mr. Shackford, with a gesture of intense contempt, "you are less than rascals. You are fools. A rascal has to have brains!"
"You shameless old man!" cried Richard, as soon as he could get his voice.
To do Mr. Shackford justice, he was thoroughly convinced that Richard had lent himself to a preposterous attempt to obtain money from him. The absence of ordinary shrewdness in the method stamped it at once as belonging to Slocum, of whose mental calibre Mr. Shackford entertained no flattering estimate.
"Slocum!" he muttered, grinding the word between his teeth. "Family ties!" he cried, hurling the words scornfully over the banister as he disappeared into one of the upper chambers.
Richard stood with one hand on the newel-post, white at the lip with rage. For a second he had a wild impulse to spring up the staircase, but, controlling this, he turned and hurried out of the house.
At the gate he brushed roughly against a girl, who halted and stared. It was a strange thing to see Mr. Richard Shackford, who always had a pleasant word for a body, go by in that blind, excited fashion, striking one fist into the palm of the other hand, and talking to his own self! Mary Hennessey watched him until he wheeled out of Welch's Court, and then picking up her basket, which she had rested on the fence, went her way.
At the main entrance to the marble works Richard nearly walked over a man who was coming out, intently mopping his forehead with a very dirty calico handkerchief. It was an English stone-dresser named Denyven. Richard did not recognize him at first.
"That you, Denyven! . . . what has happened!"
"I've 'ad a bit of a scrimmage, sir."
"A scrimmage in the yard, in work hours!"
The man nodded.
"Torrini, sir,—he's awful bad this day."
"Torrini,—it is always Torrini! It seems odd that one man should be everlastingly at the bottom of everything wrong. How did it happen? Give it to me straight, Denyven; I don't want a crooked story. This thing has got to stop in Slocum's Yard."
"The way of it was this, sir: Torrini wasn't at the shop this morning. He 'ad a day off."
"But about one o'clock, sir, he come in the yard. He 'ad been at the public 'ouse, sir, and he was hummin'. First he went among the carvers, talking Hitalian to 'em and making 'em laugh, though he was in a precious bad humor hisself. By and by he come over to where me and my mates was, and began chaffin' us, which we didn't mind it, seeing he was 'eavy in the 'ead. He was as clear as a fog 'orn all the same. But when he took to banging the tools on the blocks, I sings out, ''Ands off!' and then he fetched me a clip. I was never looking for nothing less than that he'd hit me. I was a smiling at the hinstant."
"He must be drunker than usual."
"Hevidently, sir. I went down between two slabs as soft as you please. When I got on my pins, I was for choking him a bit, but my mates hauled us apart. That's the 'ole of it, sir. They'll tell you the same within."
"Are you hurt, Denyven?"
"Only a bit of a scratch over the heye, sir,—and the nose," and the man began mopping his brow tenderly. "I'd like to 'ave that Hitalian for about ten minutes, some day when he's sober, over yonder on the green."
"I'm afraid he would make the ten minutes seem long to you."
"Well, sir, I'd willingly let him try his 'and."
"How is it, Denyven," said Richard, "that you and sensible workingmen like you, have permitted such a quarrelsome and irresponsible fellow to become a leader in the Association? He's secretary, or something, isn't he?"
"Well, sir, he writes an uncommonly clean fist, and then he's a born horator. He's up to all the parli'mentary dodges. Must 'ave 'ad no end of hexperience in them sort of things on the other side."
"No doubt,—and that accounts for him being over here."
"As for horganizing a meeting, sir"—
"I know. Torrini has a great deal of that kind of ability; perhaps a trifle too much for his own good or anybody else's. There was never any trouble to speak of among the trades in Stillwater till he and two or three others came here with foreign grievances. These men get three times the pay they ever received in their own land, and are treated like human beings for the first time in their lives. But what do they do? They squander a quarter of their week's wages at the tavern,—no rich man could afford to put a fourth of his income into drink,—and make windy speeches at the Union. I don't say all of them, but too many of them. The other night, I understand, Torrini compared Mr. Slocum to Nero,—Mr. Slocum, the fairest and gentlest man that ever breathed! What rubbish!"
"It wasn't just that way, sir. His words was, and I 'eard him,—'from Nero down to Slocum.'"
"It amounts to the same thing, and is enough to make one laugh, if he didn't make one want to swear. I hear that that was a very lively meeting the other night. What was that nonsense about 'the privileged class'?"
"Well, there is a privileged class in the States."
"So there is, but it's a large class, Denyven. Every soul of us has the privilege of bettering out condition if we have the brain and the industry to do it. Energy and intelligence come to the front, and have the right to be there. A skillful workman gets double the pay of a bungler, and deserves it. Of course there will always be rich and poor, and sick and sound, and I don't see how that can be changed. But no door is shut against ability, black or white. Before the year 2400 we shall have a chrome-yellow president and a black-and-tan secretary of the treasury. But, seriously, Denyven, whoever talks about privileged classes here does it to make mischief. There are certain small politicians who reap their harvest in times of public confusion, just as pickpockets do. Nobody can play the tyrant or the bully in this country,—not even a workingman. Here's the Association dead against an employer who, two years ago, ran his yard full-handed for a twelvemonth at a loss, rather than shut down, as every other mill and factory in Stillwater did. For years and years the Association has prevented this employer from training more than two apprentices annually. The result is, eighty hands find work, instead of a hundred and eighty. Now, that can't last."
"It keeps wages fixed in Stillwater, sir."
"It keeps out a hundred workmen. It sends away capital."
"Torrini says, sir"—
"Steer clear of Torrini and what he says. He's a dangerous fellow—for his friends. It is handsome in you, Denyven, to speak up for him—with that eye of yours."
"Oh, I don't love the man, when it comes to that; but there's no denying he's right smart," replied Denyven, who occasionally marred his vernacular with Americanisms. "The Association couldn't do without him."
"But Slocum's Yard can," said Richard, irritated to observe the influence Torrini exerted on even such men as Denyven.
"That's between you and him, sir, of course, but"—
"Well, isr, I can't say hexactly; but if I was you I would bide a bit."
"No, I think Torrini's time has come."
"I don't make bold to advise you, sir. I merely throws out the hobservation."
With that Denyven departed to apply to his bruises such herbs and simples as a long experience had taught him to be efficacious.
He had gone only a few rods, however, when it occurred to him that there were probabilities of a stormy scene in the yard; so he turned on his tracks, and followed Richard Shackford.
Torrini was a Neapolitan, who had come to the country seven or eight years before. He was a man above the average intelligence of his class; a marble worker by trade, but he had been a fisherman, a mountain guide among the Abruzzi, a soldier in the papal guard, and what not, and had contrived to pick up two or three languages, among the rest English, which he spoke with purity. His lingual gift was one of his misfortunes.
Among the exotics in Stillwater, which even boasted a featureless Celestial, who had unobtrusively extinguished himself with a stove-pipe hat, Torrini was the only figure that approached picturesqueness. With his swarthy complexion and large, indolent eyes, in which a southern ferocity slept lightly, he seemed to Richard a piece out of his own foreign experience. To him Torrini was the crystallization of Italy, or so much of that Italy as Richard had caught a glimpse of at Genoa. To the town-folks Torrini perhaps vaguely suggested hand-organs and eleemosynary pennies; but Richard never looked at the straight-limbed, handsome fellow without recalling the Phrygian-capped sailors of the Mediterranean. On this account, and for other reasons, Richard had taken a great fancy to the man. Torrini had worked in the ornamental department from the first, and was a rapid and expert carver when he chose. He had carried himself steadily enough in the beginning, but in these later days, as Mr. Slocum had stated, he was scarcely ever sober. Richard had stood between him and his discharge on several occasions, partly because he was so skillful a workman, and partly through pity for his wife and children, who were unable to speak a word of English. But Torrini's influence on the men in the yard,—especially on the younger hands, who needed quite other influences,—and his intemperate speeches at the trades-union, where he had recently gained a kind of ascendancy by his daring, were producing the worst effects.
At another hour Richard might have been inclined to condone this last offense, as he had condoned others; but when he parted from Denyven, Richard's heart was still hot with his cousin's insult. As he turned into the yard, not with his usual swinging gait, but with a quick, wide step, there was an unpleasant dilation about young Shackford's nostrils.
Torrini was seated on a block of granite in front of the upper sheds, flourishing a small chisel in one hand and addressing the men, a number of whom had stopped work to listen to him. At sight of Richard they made a show of handling their tools, but it was so clear something grave was going to happen that the pretense fell through. They remained motionless, resting on their mallets, with their eyes turned towards Richard. Torrini followed the general glance, and pause din his harangue.
"Talk of the devil!" he muttered, and then, apparently continuing the thread of his discourse, broke into a strain of noisy declamation.
Richard walked up to him quietly.
"Torrini," he said, "you can't be allowed to speak here, you know."
"I can speak where I like," replied Torrini gravely. He was drunk, but the intoxication was not in his tongue. His head, as Denyven had asserted, was as clear as a fog-horn.
"When you are sober, you can come to the desk and get your pay and your kit. You are discharged from the yard."
Richard was standing within two paces of the man, who looked up with an uncertain smile, as if he had not quite taken in the sense of the words. Then, suddenly straightening himself, he exclaimed,—
"Slocum don't dare do it!"
"But I do."
"When I do a thing Mr. Slocum backs me."
"But who backs Slocum,—the Association, may be?"
"Certainly the Association ought to. I want you to leave the yard now."
"He backs Slocum," said Torrini, settling himself on the block again, "and Slocum backs down," at which there was a laugh among the men.
Richard made a step forward.
"Hands off!" cried a voice from under the sheds.
"Who said that?" demanded Richard, wheeling around. No one answered, but Richard had recognized Durgin's voice. "Torrini, if you don't quit the yard in two minutes by the clock yonder, I shall put you out by the neck. Do you understand?"
Torrini glared about him confusedly for a moment, and broke into voluble Italian; then, without a warning gesture, sprung to his feet and struck at Richard. A straight red line, running vertically the length of his cheek, showed where the chisel had grazed him. The shops were instantly in a tumult, the men dropping their tools and stumbling over the blocks, with cries of "Keep them apart!" "Shame on you!" "Look out, Mr. Shackford!"
"Is it mad ye are, Torrany!" cried Michael Hennessey, hurrying from the saw-bench. Durgin held him back by the shoulders.
"Let them alone," said Durgin.
The flat steel flashed again in the sunlight, but fell harmlessly, and before the blow could be repeated, Richard had knitted his fingers in Torrini's neckerchief and twisted it so tightly that the man gasped. Holding him by this, Richard dragged Torrini across the yard, and let him drop on the sidewalk outside the gate, where he lay in a heap, inert.
"That was nate," said Michael Hennessey, sententiously.
Richard stood leaning on the gate-post to recover he breath. His face was colorless, and the crimson line defined itself sharply against the pallor; but the rage was dead within him. It had been one of his own kind of rages,—like lightning out of a blue sky. As he stood there a smile was slowly gathering on his lip.
A score or two of the men had followed him, and now lounged in a half-circle a few paces in the rear. When Richard was aware of their presence, the glow came into his eyes again.
"Who ordered you to knock off work?"
"That was a foul blow of Torrini's, sir," said Stevens, stepping forward, "and I for one come to see fair play."
"Give us your 'and, mate!" cried Denyven; "there's a pair of us."
"Thanks," said Richard, softening at once, "but there's no need. Every man can go to his job. Denyven may stay, if he likes."
The men lingered a moment, irresolute, and returned to the sheds in silence.
Presently Torrini stretched out one leg, then the other, and slowly rose to his feet, giving a stupid glance at his empty hands as he did so.
"Here's your tool," said Richard, stirring the chisel with the toe of his boot, "if that's what you're looking for."
Torrini advanced a step as if to pick it up, then appeared to alter his mind, hesitated perhaps a dozen seconds, and turning abruptly on his heel walked down the street without a stagger.
"I think his legs is shut off from the rest of his body by water-tight compartments," remarked Denyven, regarding Torrini's steady gait with mingled amusement and envy. "Are you hurt, sir?"
"Only a bit of a scratch of the heye," replied Richard, with a laugh.
"As I hobserved just now to Mr. Stevens, sir, there's a pair of us!"
After a turn through the shops to assure himself that order was restored, Richard withdrew in the direction of his studio. Margaret was standing at the head of the stairs, half hidden by the scarlet creeper which draped that end of the veranda.
"What are you doing there?" said Richard looking up with a bright smile.
"Oh, Richard, I saw it all!"
"You didn't see anything worth having white cheeks about."
"But he struck you . . . with the knife, did he not?" said Margaret, clinging to his arm anxiously.
"He didn't have a knife, dear; only a small chisel, which couldn't hurt any one. See for yourself; it is merely a cat-scratch."
Margaret satisfied herself that it was nothing more; but she nevertheless insisted on leading Richard into the workshop, and soothing the slight inflammation with her handkerchief dipped in arnica and water. The elusive faint fragrance of Margaret's hair as she busied herself about him would of itself have consoled Richard for a deep wound. All this pretty solicitude and ministration was new and sweet to him, and when the arnica turned out to be cologne, and scorched his cheek, Margaret's remorse was so delicious that Richard half wished the mixture had been aquafortia.
"You shouldn't have been looking into the yard," he said. "If I had known that you were watching us it would have distracted me. When I am thinking of you I cannot think of anything else, and I had need of my wits for a moment."
"I happened to be on the veranda, and was too frightened to go away. Why did you quarrel?"
In giving Margaret an account of the matter, Richard refrained from any mention of his humiliating visit to Welch's Court that morning. He could neither speak of it nor reflect upon it with composure. The cloud which shadowed his features from time to time was attributed by Margaret to the affair in the yard.
"But this is the end of it, is it not?" she asked, with troubled eyes. "You will not have any further words with him?"
"You needn't worry. If Torrini had not been drinking he would never have lifted his hand against me. When he comes out of his present state, he will be heartily ashamed of himself. His tongue is the only malicious part of him. If he hadn't a taste for drink and oratory,—if he was not 'a born horator,' as Denyven calls him,—he would do well enough."
"No, Richard, he's a dreadful man. I shall never forget his face,—it was some wild animal's. And you, Richard," added Margaret softly, "it grieved me to see you look like that."
"I was wolfish for a moment, I suppose. Things had gone wrong generally. But if you are going to scold me, Margaret, I would rather have some more—arnica."
"I am not going to scold; but while you stood there, so white and terrible,—so unlike yourself,—I felt that I did not know you, Richard. Of course you had to defend yourself when the man attacked you, but I thought for an instant you would kill him."
"Not I," said Richard uneasily, dreading anything like a rebuke from Margaret. "I am mortified that I gave up to my anger. There was no occasion."
"If an intoxicated person were to wander into the yard, papa would send for a constable, and have the person removed."
"Your father is an elderly man," returned Richard, not relishing this oblique criticism of his own simpler method. "What would be proper in his case would be considered cowardly in mine. It was my duty to discharge the fellow, and not let him dispute my authority. I ought to have been cooler, of course. But I should have lost caste and influence with the men if I had shown the least personal fear of Torrini,—if, for example, I had summoned somebody else to do what I didn't dare do myself. I was brought up in the yard, remember, and to a certain extent I have to submit to being weighed in the yard's own scales."
"But a thing cannot be weighed in a scale incapable of containing it," answered Margaret. "The judgment of these rough, uninstruicted men is too narrow for such as you. They quarrel and fight among themselves, and have their ideas of daring; but there is a higher sort of bravery, the bravery of self-control, which I fancy they do not understand very well; so their opinion of it is not worth considering. However, you know better than I."
"No, I do not," said Richard. "Your instinct is finer than my reason. But you are scolding me, Margaret."
"No, I am loving you," she said softly. "How can I do that more faithfully than by being dissatisfied with anything but the best in you?"
"I wasn't at my best a while ago?"
"I can never hope to be worthy of you."
But Margaret protested against that. Having forced him to look at his action through her eyes, she outdid him in humility, and then the conversation drifted off into half-breathed nothings, which, though they were satisfactory enough for these two, would have made a third person yawn.
The occurrence at Slocum's Yard was hotly discussed that night at the Stillwater hotel. Discussions in that long, low bar-room, where the latest village scandal always came to receive the finishing gloss, were apt to be hot. In their criticism of outside men and measures, as well as in their mutual vivisections, there was an unflinching directness among Mr. Snelling's guests which is not to be found in more artificial grades of society. The popular verdict on young Shackford's conduct was as might not have been predicted, strongly in his favor. He had displayed pluck, and pluck of the tougher fibre was a quality held in so high esteem in Stillwater that any manifestation of it commanded respect. And young Shackford had shown a great deal; he had made short work of the most formidable man in the yard, and given the rest to understand that he was not to be tampered with. This had taken many by surprise, for hitherto an imperturbable amiability had been the leading characteristic of Slocum's manager.
"I didn't think he had it in him," declared Dexter.
"Well, ye might," replied Michael Hennessey. "Look at the lad's eye, and the muscles of him. He stands on his own two legs like a monumint, so he does."
"Never saw a monument with two legs, Mike."
"Didn't ye? Wait till ye're layin' at the foot of one. But ye'll wait many a day, me boy. Ye'll be lucky if ye're supploid with a head-stone made out of a dale-board."
"Couldn't get a wooden head-stone short of Ireland, Mike." Retorted Dexter, with a laugh. "You'd have to import it."
"An' so I will; but it won't be got over in time, if ye go on interruptin' gintlemen when they're discoorsin'. What was I sayin', any way, when the blackguard chipped in?" continued Mr. Hennessey, appealing to the company, as he emptied the ashes from his pipe by knocking the bowl in the side of his chair.
"You was talking of Dick Shackford's muscle," said Durgin, "and you never talked wider of the mark. It doesn't take much muscle, or much courage either, to knock a man about when he's in liquor. The two wasn't fairly matched."
"You are right there, Durgin," said Stevens, laying down his newspaper. "They weren't fairly matched. Both men have the same pounds and inches, but Torrini had a weapon and that mad strength that comes to some folks with drink. If Shackford hadn't made a neat twist on the neckerchief, he wouldn't have got off with a scratch."
"Shackford had no call to lay hands on him."
"There you are wrong, Durgin," replied Stevens. "Torrini had no call in the yard; he was making a nuisance of himself. Shackford spoke to him, and told him to go, and when he didn't go Shackford put him out; and he put him out handsomely,—'with neatness and dispatch,' as Slocum's prospectuses has it."
"He was right all the time," said Piggott. "He didn't strike Torrini before or after he was down, and stood at the gate like a gentleman, ready to give Torrini his chance if he wanted it."
"Torrini didn't want it," observed Jemmy Willson. "Ther' isn't nothing mean about Torrini."
"But he 'ad a dozen minds about coming back," said Denyven.
"We ought to have got him out of the place quietly," said Jeff Stavers; "that was our end of the mistake. He is not a bad fellow, but he shouldn't drink."
"He was crazy to come to the yard."
"When a man 'as a day off," observed Denyven, "and the beer isn't narsty, he 'ad better stick to the public 'ouse."
"Oh, you!" exclaimed Durgin. "Your opinion don't weigh. You took a black eye of him."
"Yes, I took a black heye,—and I can give one, in a hemergency. Yes, I gives and takes."
"That's where we differ," returned Durgin. "I do a more genteel business; I give, and don't take."
"Unless you're uncommon careful," said Denyven, pulling away at his pipe, "you'll find yourself some day henlarging your business."
Durgin pushed back his stool.
"Gentlemen! gentlemen!" interposed Mr. Snelling, appearing from beind the bar with a lemon-squeezer in his hand, "we'll have no black eyes here that wasn't born so. I am partial to them myself when nature gives them; and I propose the health of Miss Molly Hennessey," with a sly glance at Durgin, who colored, "to be drank at the expense of the house. Name your taps, gentlemen."
"Snelling, me boy, ye'd wint the bird from the bush with yer beguilin' ways. Ye've brought proud tears to the eyes of an aged parent, and I'll take a sup out of that high-showldered bottle which you kape under the counter for the gentle-folk in the other room."
A general laugh greeted Mr. Hennessey's selection, and peace was restored; but the majority of those present were workmen from Slocum's, and the event of the afternoon remained the uppermost theme.
"Shackford is a different build from Slocum," said Piggott.
"I guess the yard will find that out when he gets to be proprietor," rejoined Durgin, clicking his spoon against the empty glass to attract Snelling's attention.
"Going to be proprietor, is he?"
"Some day or other," answered Durgin. "First he'll step into the business, and then into the family. He's had his eye on Slocum's girl these four or five years. Got a cast of her fist up in his workshop. Leave Dick Shackford alone for lining his nest and making it soft all round."
"Why shouldn't he?" asked Stevens. "He deserves a good girl, and there's none better. If sickness or any sort of trouble comes to a poor man's door, she's never far off with her kind words and them things the rich have when they are laid up."
"Oh, the girl is well enough."
"You couldn't say less. Before your mother died,"—Mrs. Durgin had died the previous autumn,—"I see that angil going to your house many a day with a little basket of comforts tucked under her wing. But she's too good to be praised in such a place as this," added Stevens. After a pause he inquired, "What makes you down on Shackford? He has always been a friend to you."
"One of those friends who walk over your head," replied Durgin. "I was in the yard two years before him, and see where he is."
"Lord love you," said Stevens, leaning back in his chair and contemplating Durgin thoughtfully, "there is marble and marble; some is Carrara marble, and some isn't. The fine grain takes a polish you can't get on to the other."
"Of course, he is statuary marble, and I'm full of seams and feldspar."
"You are like the most of us,—not the kind that can be worked up into anything very ornamental."
"Thank you for nothing," said Durgin, turning away. "I came from as good a quarry as ever Dick Shackford. Where's Torrini to-night?"
"Nobody has seen him since the difficulty," said Dexter, "except Peters. Torrini sent for him after supper."
As Dexter spoke, the door opened and Peters entered. He went directly to the group composed chiefly of Slocum's men, and without making any remark began to distribute among them certain small blue tickets, which they pocketed in silence. Glancing carelessly at his piece of card-board, Durgin said to Peters,—
"Then it's decided?"
"He's all right."
"What does he say?"
"Nothing in perticular," responded Peters, "and nothing at all about his little skylark with Shackford."
"He's a cool one!" exclaimed Durgin.
Though the slips of blue pasteboard had been delivered and accepted without comment, it was known in a second through the bar-room that a special meeting had been convened for the next night by the officers of the Marble Workers' Association.
On the third morning after Torrini's expulsion from the yard, Mr. Slocum walked into the studio with a printed slip in his hand. A similar slip lay crumpled under a work-bench, where Richard had tossed it. Mr. Slocum's kindly visage was full of trouble and perplexity as he raised his eyes from the paper, which he had been re-reading on the way up-stairs.
"Look at that!"
"Yes," remarked Richard, "I have been honored with one of those documents."
"What does it mean?"
"It means business."
The paper in question contained a series of resolutions unanimously adopted at a meeting of the Marble Workers' Association of Stillwater, held in Grimsey's Hall the previous night. Dropping the preamble, these resolutions, which were neatly printed with a type-writing machine on a half letter sheet, ran as follows:—