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The Stillwater Tragedy
by Thomas Bailey Aldrich
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Resolved, That on and after the First of June proximo, the pay of carvers in Slocum's Marble Yard shall be $2.75 per day,
instead of $2.50 as heretofore.
Resolved, That on and after the same date, the rubbers and polishers shall have $2.00 per day, instead of $1.75 as heretofore.
Resolved, That on and after the same date the millmen are to have $2.00 per day, instead of $1.75 as heretofore.
Resolved, That during the months of June, July, and August the shops shall knock off work on Saturdays at five P.M., instead of at six P.M.

Resolved, That a printed copy of these Resolutions be laid before the Proprietor of Slocum's Marble Yard, and that his immediate attention to them be respectfully requested. Per order of Committee M. W. A.

"Torrini is at the bottom of that," said Mr. Slocum.

"I hardly think so. This arrangement, as I told you the other day before I had the trouble with him, has been in contemplation several weeks. Undoubtedly Torrini used his influence to hasten the movement already planned. The Association has too much shrewdness to espouse the quarrel of an individual."

"What are we to do?"

"If you are in the same mind you were when we talked over the possibility of an unreasonable demand like this, there is only one thing to do."

"Fight it?"

"Fight it."

"I have been resolute, and all that sort of thing, in times past," observed Mr. Slocum, glancing out of the tail of his eye at Richard, "and have always come off second best. The Association has drawn up most of my rules for me, and had its own way generally."

"Since my time you have never been in so strong a position to make a stand. We have got all the larger contracts out of the way. Foreseeing what was likely to come, I have lately fought shy of taking new ones. Here are heavy orders from Rafter & Son, the Builders' Company, and others. We must decline them by to-night's mail."

"Is it really necessary?" asked Mr. Slocum, knitting his forehead into what would have been a scowl if his mild pinkish eyebrows had permitted it.

"I think so."

"I hate to do that."

"Then we are at the mercy of the Association."

"If we do not come to their terms, you seriously believe they will strike?"

"I do," replied Richard, "and we should be in a pretty fix."

"But these demands are ridiculous."

"The men are not aware of our situation; they imagine we have a lot of important jobs on hand, as usual at this season. Formerly the foreman of a shop had access to the order-book, but for the last year or two I have kept it in the safe here. The other day Dexter came to me and wanted to see what work was set down ahead in the blotter; but I had an inspiration and didn't let him post himself."

"Is not some kind of compromise possible?" suggested Mr. Slocum, looking over the slip again. "Now this fourth clause, about closing the yard an hour early on Saturdays, I don't strongly object to that, though with eighty hands it means, every week, eighty hours' work which the yard pays for and doesn't get."

"I should advise granting that request. Such concessions are never wasted. But, Mr. Slocum, this is not going to satisfy them. They have thrown in one reasonable demand merely to flavor the rest. I happen to know that they are determined to stand by their programme to the last letter."

"You know that?"

"I have a friend at court. Of course this is not to be breathed, but Denyven, without being at all false to his comrades, talks freely with me. He says they are resolved not to give an inch."

"Then we will close the works."

"That is what I wanted you to say, sir!" cried Richard.

"With this new scale of prices and plenty of work, we might probably come out a little ahead the next six months; but it wouldn't pay for the trouble and the capital invested. Then when trade slackened, we should be running at a loss, and there'd be another wrangle over a reduction. We had better lie idle."

"Stick to that, sir, and may be it will not be necessary."

"But if they strike"—

"They won't all strike. At least," added Richard, "I hope not. I have indirectly sounded several of the older hands, and they have half promised to hold on; only half promised, for every man of them at heart fears the trades-union more than No-bread—until No-bread comes."

"Whom have you spoken with?"

"Lumley, Giles, Peterson, and some others,—your pensioners, I call them."

"Yes, they were in the yard in my father's time; they have not been worth their salt these ten years. When the business was turned over to me I didn't discharge any old hand who had given his best days to the yard. Somehow I couldn't throw away the squeezed lemons. An employer owes a good workman something beyond the wages paid."

"And a workman owes a good employer something beyond the work done. You stood by these men after they outlived their usefulness, and if they do not stand by you now, they're a shabby set."

"I fancy they will, Richard."

"I think they had better, and I wish they would. We have enough odds and ends to keep them busy awhile, and I shouldn't like to have the clinking of chisels die out altogether under the old sheds."

"Nor I," returned Mr. Slocum, with a touch of sadness in his intonation. "It has grown to be a kind of music to me," and he paused to listen to the sounds of ringing steel that floated up from the workshop.

"Whatever happens, that music shall not cease in the yard except on Sundays, if I have to take the mallet and go at a slab all alone."

"Slocum's Yard with a single workman in it would be a pleasing spectacle," said Mr. Slocum, smiling ruefully.

"It wouldn't be a bad time for that workman to strike," returned Richard with a laugh.

"He could dictate his own terms," returned Mr. Slocum, soberly. "Well, I suppose you cannot help thinking about Margaret; but don't think of her now. Tell me what answer you propose to give the Association,—how you mean to put it; for I leave the matter wholly to you. I shall have no hand in it, further than to indorse your action."

"To-morrow, then," said Richard, "for it is no use to hurry up a crisis, I shall go to the workshops and inform them that their request for short hours on Saturdays is granted, but that the other changes they suggest are not to be considered. There will never be a better opportunity, Mr. Slocum, to settle another question which has been allowed to run too long."

"What's that?"

"The apprentice question."

"Would it be wise to touch on that at present?"

"While we are straightening out matters and putting things on a solid basis, it seems to me essential to settle that. There was never a greater imposition, or one more short-sighted, than this rule which prevents the training of sufficient workmen. The trades-union will discover their error some day when they have succeeded in forcing manufacturers to import skilled labor by the wholesale. I would like to tell the Marble Workers' Association that Slocum's Yard has resolved to employ as many apprentices each year as there is room for."

"I wouldn't dare risk it!"

"It will have to be done, sooner or later. It would be a capital flank movement now. They have laid themselves open to an attack on that quarter."

"I might as well close the gates for good and all."

"So you will, if it comes to that. You can afford to close the gates, and they can't afford to have you. In a week they'd be back, asking you to open them. Then you could have your pick of the live hands, and drop the dead wood. If Giles or Peterson or Lumley or any of those desert us, they are not to be let on again. I hope you will promise me that, sir."

"If the occasion offers, you shall reorganize the shops in your own way. I haven't the nerve for this kind of business, though I have seen a great deal of it in the villages, first and last. Strikes are terrible mistakes. Even when they succeed, what pays for the lost time and the money squandered over the tavern-bar? What makes up for the days or weeks when the fire was out on the hearth and the children had no bread? That is what happens, you know."

"There is no remedy for such calamities," Richard answered. "Yet I can imagine occasions when it would be better to let the fire go out and the children want for bread."

"You are not advocating strikes!" exclaimed Mr. Slocum.

"Why not?"

"I thought you were for fighting them."

"So I am, in this instance; but the question has two sides. Every man has the right to set a price on his own labor, and to refuse to work for less; the wisdom of it is another matter. He puts himself in the wrong only when he menaces the person or the property of the man who has an equal right not to employ him. That is the blunder strikers usually make in the end, and one by which they lose public sympathy even when they are fighting an injustice. Now, sometimes it is an injustice that is being fought, and then it is right to fight it with the only weapon a poor man has to wield against a power which possesses a hundred weapons,—and that's a strike. For example, the smelters and casters in the Miantowona Iron Works are meanly underpaid."

"What, have they struck?"

"There's a general strike threatened in the village; foundry-men, spinners, and all."

"So much the worse for everybody! I did not suppose it was as bad as that. What has become of Torrini?"

"The day after he left us he was taken on as forgeman at Dana's."

"I am glad Dana has got him!"

"At the meeting, last night, Torrini gave in his resignation as secretary of the Association; being no longer a marble worker, he was not qualified to serve."

"We unhorsed him, then?"

"Rather. I am half sorry, too."

"Richard," said Mr. Slocum, halting in one of his nervous walks up and down the room, "you are the oddest composition of hardness and softness I ever saw."

"Am I?"

"One moment you stand braced like a lion to fight the whole yard, and the next moment you are pitying a miscreant who would have laid your head open without the slightest compunction."

"Oh, I forgive him," said Richard. "I was a trifle hasty myself. Margaret thinks so too."

"Much Margaret knows about it!"

"I was inconsiderate, to say the least. When a man picks up a tool by the wrong end he must expect to get cut."

"You didn't have a choice."

"I shouldn't have touched Torrini. After discharging him and finding him disposed to resist my order to leave the yard, I ought to have called in a constable. Usually it is very hard to anger me; but three or four times in my life I have been carried away by a devil of a temper which I couldn't control, it seized me so unawares. That was one of the times."

The mallets and chisels were executing a blithe staccato movement in the yard below, and making the sparks dance. No one walking among the diligent gangs, and observing the placid faces of the men as they bent over their tasks, would have suspected that they were awaiting the word that meant bread and meat and home to them.

As Richard passed through the shops, dropping a word to a workman here and there, the man addressed looked up cheerfully and made a furtive dab at the brown paper cap, and Richard returned the salute smilingly; but he was sad within. "The foolish fellows," he said to himself, "they are throwing away a full loaf and are likely to get none at all." Giles and two or three of the ancients were squaring a block of marble under a shelter by themselves. Richard made it a point to cross over and speak to them. In past days he had not been exacting with these old boys, and they always had a welcome for him.

Slocum's Yard seldom presented a serener air of contented industry than it wore that morning; but in spite of all this smooth outside it was a foregone conclusion with most of the men that Slocum, with Shackford behind him, would never submit to the new scale of wages. There were a few who had protested against these resolutions and still disapproved of them, but were forced to go with the Association, which had really been dragged into the current by the other trades.

The Dana Mills and the Miantowona Iron Works were paying lighter wages than similar establishments nearer the great city. The managers contended that they were paying as high if not higher rates, taking into consideration the cheaper cost of living in Stillwater. "But you get city prices for your wares," retorted the union; "you don't pay city rents, and you shall pay city wages." Meetings were held at Grimsey's Hall and the subject was canvassed, at first calmly and then stormily. Among the molders, and possibly the sheet-iron workers, there was cause for dissatisfaction; but the dissatisfaction spread to where no grievance existed; it seized upon the spinners, and finally upon the marble workers. Torrini fanned the flame there. Taking for his text the rentage question, he argued that Slocum was well able to give a trifle more for labor than his city competitors. "The annual rent of a yard like Slocum's would be four thousand or five thousand dollars in the city. It doesn't cost Slocum two hundred dollars. It is no more than just that the laborer should have a share—he only asks a beggarly share—of the prosperity which he has helped to build up." This was specious and taking. Then there came down from the great city a glib person disguised as The Workingman's Friend,—no workingman himself, mind you, but a ghoul that lives upon subscriptions and sucks the senses out of innocent human beings,—who managed to set the place by the ears. The result of all which was that one May morning every shop, mill, and factory in Stillwater was served with a notice from the trades-union, and a general strike threatened.

But our business at present is exclusively with Slocum's Yard.



XV



"Since we are in for it," said Mr. Slocum the next morning, "put the case to them squarely."

Mr. Slocum's vertebrae had stiffened over night.

"Leave that to me, sir," Richard replied. "I have been shaping out in my mind a little speech which I flatter myself will cover the points. They have brought this thing upon themselves, and we are about to have the clearest of understandings. I never saw the men quieter."

"I don't altogether admire that. It looks as if they hadn't any doubt as to the issue."

"The clearest-headed have no doubt; they know as well as you and I do the flimsiness of those resolutions. But the thick heads are in a fog. Every man naturally likes his pay increased; if a simple fellow is told five or six hundred times that his wages ought to be raised, the idea is so agreeable and insidious that by and by he begins to believe himself grossly underpaid, though he may be getting twice what he is worth. He doesn't reason about it; that's the last thing he'll do for you. In this mood he lets himself be flown away by the breath of some loud-mouthed demagogue, who has no interest in the matter beyond hearing his own talk and passing round the hat after the meeting is over. That is what has happened to our folks below. But they are behaving handsomely."

"Yes, and I don't like it."

Since seven o'clock the most unimpeachable decorum had reigned in the workshops. It was now nine, and this brief dialogue had occurred between Mr. Slocum and Richard on the veranda, just as the latter was on the point of descending into the yard to have his talk with the men.

The workshops—or rather the shed in which the workshops were, for it was one low structure eighteen or twenty feet wide and open on the west side—ran the length of the yard, and with the short extension at the southerly end formed the letter L. There were no partitions, an imaginary line separating the different gangs of workers. A person standing at the head of the building could make himself heard more or less distinctly in the remotest part.

The grating lisp of the wet saws eating their way into the marble bowlder, and the irregular quick taps of the seventy or eighty mallets were not suspended as Richard took his stand beside a tall funereal urn at the head of the principal workshop. After a second's faltering he rapped smartly on the lip of the ukrn with the key of his studio-door.

Instantly every arm appeared paralyzed, and the men stood motionless, with the tools in their hands.

Richard began in a clear but not loud voice, though it seemed to ring on the sudden silence:—

"Mr. Slocum has asked me to say a few words to you, this morning, about those resolutions, and one or two other matters that have occurred to him in this connection. I am no speech-maker; I never learned that trade"—

"Never learned any trade," muttered Durgin, inaudibly.

—"but I think I can manage some plain, honest talk, for straight-forward men."

Richard's exordium was listened to with painful attention.

"In the first place," he continued, "I want to remind you, especially the newer men, that Slocum's Yard has always given steady work and prompt pay to Stillwater hands. No hand has ever been turned off without sufficient cause, or kept on through mere favoritism. Favors have been shown, but they have been shown to all alike. If anything has gone crooked, it has been straightened out as soon as Mr. Slocum knew of it. That has been the course of the yard in the past, and the Proprietor doesn't want you to run away with the idea that that course is going to be changed. One change, for the time being, is going to be made at our own suggestion. From now, until the 1st of September, this yard will close gates on Saturdays at five P.M. instead of six P.M."

Several voices cried, "Good for Slocum!" "Where's Slocum?" "Why don't Slocum speak for himself?" cried one voice.

"It is Mr. Slocum's habit," answered Richard, "to give his directions to me, I give them to the foremen, and the foremen to the shops. Mr. Slocum follows that custom on this occasion. With regard to the new scale of wages which the Association has submitted to him, the Proprietor refuses to accept it, or any modification of it."

A low murmur ran through the workshops.

"What's a modificashun, sir?" asked Jemmy Willson, stepping forward, and scratching his left ear diffidently.

"A modification," replied Richard, considerably embarrassed to give an instant definition, "is a—a"—

"A splitting of the difference, by—!" shouted somebody in the third shop.

"Thank you," said Richard, glancing in the direction of his impromptu Webster's Unabridged. "Mr. Slocum does not propose to split the difference. The wages in every department are to be just what they are,—neither more nor less. If anybody wishes to make a remark," he added, observing a restlessness in several of the men, "I beg he will hold on until I get through. I shall not detain you much longer, as the parson says before he has reached the middle of his sermon.

"What I say now, I was charged to make particularly clear to you. It is this: In future Mr. Slocum intends to run Slocum's Yard himself. Neither you, nor I, nor the Association will be allowed to run it for him. [Sensation.] Until now the Association has tied him down to two apprentices a year. From this hour, out, Mr. Slocum will take on, not two, or twenty, but two hundred apprentices if the business warrants it."

The words were not clearly off Richard's lips when the foreman of the shop in which he was speaking picked up a couple of small drills, and knocked them together with a sharp click. In an instant the men laid aside their aprons, bundled up their tools, and marched out of the shed two by two, in dead silence. That same click was repeated almost simultaneously in the second shop, and the same evolution took place. Then click, click, click! went the drills, sounding fainter and fainter in the distant departments; and in less than three minutes there was not a soul left in Slocum's Yard except the Orator of the Day.

Richard had anticipated some demonstration, either noisy or violent, perhaps both; but this solemn, orderly desertion dashed him.

He stepped into the middle of the yard, and glancing up beheld Margaret and Mr. Slocum standing on the veranda. Even at that distance he could perceive the pallor on one face, and the consternation written all over the other.

Hanging his head with sadness, Richard crossed the yard, which gave out mournful echoes to his footfalls, and swung to the large gate, nearly catching old Giles by the heel as he did so. Looking through the slats, he saw Lumley and Peterson hobbling arm in arm down the street,—after more than twenty-five years of kindly treatment.

"Move number one," said Richard, lifting the heavy cross-piece into its place and fastening it with a wooden pin. "Now I must go and prop up Mr. Slocum."



XVI



There is no solitude which comes so near being tangible as that of a vast empty workshop, crowded a moment since. The busy, intense life that has gone from it mysteriously leaves behind enough of itself to make the stillness poignant. One might imagine the invisible ghost of doomed Toil wandering from bench to bench, and noiselessly fingering the dropped tools, still warm from the workman's palm. Perhaps this impalpable presence is the artisan's anxious thought, stolen back to brood over the uncompleted task.

Though Mr. Slocum had spoken lightly of Slocum's Yard with only one workman in it, when he came to contemplate the actual fact he was struck by the pathos of it, and the resolution with which he awoke that morning began to desert him.

"The worst is over," exclaimed Richard, joining his two friends on the veranda, "and everything went smoother than I expected."

"Everything went, sure enough," said Mr. Slocum, gloomily; "they all went,—old Giles, and Lumley, and everybody."

"We somewhat expected that, you know."

"Yes, I expected it, and wasn't prepared for it."

"It was very bad," said Richard, shaking his head.

The desertion of Giles and his superannuated mates especially touched Mr. Slocum.

"Bad is no word; it was damnable."

"Oh, papa!"

"Pardon me, dear; I couldn't help it. When a man's pensioners throw him over, he must be pretty far gone!"

"The undertow was too strong for them, sir, and they were swept away with the rest. And they all but promised to stay. They will be the very first to come back."

"Of course we shall have to take the old fellows on again," said Mr. Slocum, relenting characteristically.

"Never!" cried Richard.

"I wish I had some of your grit."

"I have none to spare. To tell the truth, when I stood up there to speak, with every eye working on me, like a half-inch drill, I would have sold myself at a low figure."

"But you were a perfect what's-his-name,—Demosthenes," said Mr. Slocum, with a faint smile. "We could hear you."

"I don't believe Demosthenes ever moved an audience as I did mine!" cried Richard gaily. "If his orations produced a like effect, I am certain that the Grecian lecture-bureau never sent him twice to the same place."

"I don't think, Richard, I would engage you over again."

"I am sure Richard spoke very well," interrupted Margaret. "His speech was short"—

"Say shortened, Margaret, for I hadn't got through when they left."

"No, I will not jest about it. It is too serious for jesting. What is to become of the families of all these men suddenly thrown out of employment?"

"They threw themselves out, Mag," said her father.

"That does not mend the matter, papa. There will be great destitution and suffering in the village with every mill closed; and they are all going to close, Bridget says. Thank Heaven that this did not happen in the winter!"

"They always pick their weather," observed Mr. Slocum.

"It will not be for long," said Richard encouragingly. "Our own hands and the spinners, who had no ground for complaint, will return to work shortly, and the managers of the iron mills will have to yield a point or two. In a week at the outside everything will be running smoothly, and on a sounder foundation than before. I believe the strike will be an actual benefit to everybody in the end."

By dint of such arguments and his own sanguine temperament, Richard succeeded in reassuring Mr. Slocum for the time being, though Richard did not hide from himself the gravity of the situation. There was a general strike in the village. Eight hundred men were without work. That meant, or would mean in a few days, two or three thousand women and children without bread. It does not take the wolf long to reach a poor man's door when it is left ajar.

The trades-union had a fund for emergencies of this sort, and some outside aid might be looked for; but such supplies are in their nature precarious and soon exhausted. It is a noticeable feature of strikes that the moment the workman's pay stops his living expenses increase. Even the more economical becomes improvident. If he has money, the tobacco shop and the tavern are likely to get more of it than the butcher's cart. The prolonged strain is too great to be endured without stimulant.



XVII



During the first and second days of the strike, Stillwater presented an animated and even a festive appearance. Throngs of operatives in their Sunday clothes strolled through the streets, or lounged at the corners chatting with other groups; some wandered into the suburbs, and lay in the long grass under the elms. Others again, though these were few, took to the turnpike or the railroad track, and tramped across country.

It is needless to say that the bar-room of the tavern was crowded from early morning down to the hour when the law compelled Mr. Snelling to shut off his gas. After which, John Brown's "soul" could be heard "marching on" in the darkness, through various crooked lanes and alleys, until nearly daybreak.

Among the earliest to scent trouble in the air was Han-Lin, the Chinaman before mentioned. He kept a small laundry in Mud Lane, where his name was painted perpendicularly on a light of glass in the basement window of a tenement house. Han-Lin intended to be buried some day in a sky-blue coffin in his own land, and have a dozen packs of firecrackers decorously exploded over his remains. In order to reserve himself for this and other ceremonies involving the burning of a great quantity of gilt paper, he quietly departed for Boston at the first sign of popular discontent. As Dexter described it, "Han-Lin coiled up his pig-tail, put forty grains of rice in a yallar bag,—enough to last him a month!—and toddled off in his two-story wooden shoes." He could scarcely have done a wiser thing, for poor Han-Lin's laundry was turned wrong side out within thirty-six hours afterwards.

The strike was popular. The spirit of it spread, as fire and fever and all elemental forces spread. The two apprentices in Brackett's bakery had a dozen minds about striking that first morning. The younger lad, Joe Wiggin, plucked up courage to ask Brackett for a day off, and was lucky enough to dodge a piece of dough weighing nearly four pounds.

Brackett was making bread while the sun shone. He knew that before the week was over there would be no cash customers, and he purposed then to shut up shop.

On the third and fourth days there was no perceptible fall in the barometer. Trade was brisk with Snelling, and a brass band was playing national airs on a staging erected on the green in front of the post-office. Nightly meetings took place at Grimsey's Hall, and the audiences were good-humored and orderly. Torrini advanced some Utopian theories touching a universal distribution of wealth, which were listened to attentively, but failed to produce deep impression.

"That's a healthy idea of Torrini's about dervidin' up property," said Jemmy Willson. "I've heerd it afore; but it's sing'ler I never knowd a feller with any property to have that idea."

"Ther' 's a great dale in it, I can tell ye," replied Michael Hennessey, with a well-blackened Woodstock pipe between his teeth and his hands tucked under his coat-tails. "Isn't ther', Misther Stavens?"

When Michael had on his bottle-green swallow-tailed coat with the brass buttons, he invariably assumed a certain lofty air of ceremony in addressing his companions.

"It is sorter pleasant to look at," returned Stevens, "but it don't seem to me an idea that would work. Suppose that, after all the property was divided, a fresh shipload of your friends was to land at New York or Boston; would there be a new deal?"

"No, sir! by no means!" exclaimed Michael excitedly. "The furreners is counted out!"

"But you're a foreigner yourself, Mike."

"Am I, then? Bedad, I'm not! I'm a rale American Know Nothing."

"Well, Mike," said Stevens maliciously, "when it comes to a reg'lar division of lands and greenbacks in the United States, I go in for the Chinese having their share."

"The Chinese!" shouted Michael. "Oh, murther, Misther Stevens! Ye wouldn't be fur dividin' with thim blatherskites!"

"Yes, with them,—as well as the rest," returned Stevens, dryly.

Meanwhile the directors and stockholders of the various mills took counsel in a room at the rear of the National Bank. Mr. Slocum, following Richard's advice, declined to attend the meeting in person, or to allow his name to figure on the list of vice-presidents.

"Why should we hitch our good cause to their doubtful one?" reflected Richard. "We have no concessions or proposals to make. When our men are ready to come back to us, they will receive just wages and fair treatment. They know that. We do not want to fight the molders. Let the iron-mills do their own fighting;" and Richard stolidly employed himself in taking an account of stock, and forwarding by express to their destination the ten or twelve carved mantel-pieces that happily completed the last contract.

Then his responsibilities shrunk to winding up the office clock and keeping Mr. Slocum firmly on his legs. The latter was by far the more onerous duty, for Mr. Slocum ran down two or three times in the course of every twenty-four hours, while the clock once wound was fixed for the day.

"If I could only have a good set of Waltham works put into your father," said Richard to Margaret, after one of Mr. Slocum's relapses, "he would go better."

"Poor papa! he is not a fighter, like you."

"Your father is what I call a belligerent non-combatant."

Richard was seeing a great deal of Margaret these days. Mr. Slocum had invited him to sleep in the studio until the excitement was past. Margaret was afraid to have him take that long walk between the yard and his lodgings in Lime Street, and then her father was an old man to be without any protection in the house in such untoward times.

So Richard slept in the studio, and had his plate at table, like one of the family. This arrangement was favorable to many a stolen five minutes with Margaret, in the hall or on the staircase. In these fortuitous moments he breathed an atmosphere that sustained him in his task of dispelling Mr. Slocum's recurrent fits of despondency. Margaret had her duties, too, at this period, and the forenoons were sacred to them.

One morning as she passed down the street with a small wicker basket on her arm, Richard said to Mr. Slocum,—

"Margaret has joined the strikers."

The time had already come to Stillwater when many a sharp-faced little urchin—as dear to the warm, deep bosom that had nursed it as though it were a crown prince—would not have had a crust to gnaw if Margaret Slocum had not joined the strikers. Sometimes her heart drooped on the way home from these errands, upon seeing how little of the misery she could ward off. On her rounds there was one cottage in a squalid lane where the children asked for bread in Italian. She never omitted to halt at that door.

"Is it quite prudent for Margaret to be going about so?" queried Mr. Slocum.

"She is perfectly safe," said Richard,—"as safe as a Sister of Charity, which she is."

Indeed, Margaret might then have gone loaded with diamonds through the streets at midnight. There was not a rough man in Stillwater who would not have reached forth an arm to shield her.

"It is costing me nearly as much as it would to carry on the yard," said Mr. Slocum, "but I never put out any stamps more willingly."

"You never took a better contract, sir, than when you agreed to keep Margaret's basket filled. It is an investment in real estate—hereafter."

"I hope so," answered Mr. Slocum, "and I know it's a good thing now."

Of the morals of Stillwater at this time, or at any time, the less said the better. But out of the slime and ooze below sprang the white flower of charity.

The fifth day fell on a Sabbath, and the churches were crowded. The Rev. Arthur Langly selected his text from St. Matthew, chap. xxii, v. 21: "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's." But as he did not make it quite plain which was Caesar,—the trades-union or the Miantowona Iron Works,—the sermon went for nothing, unless it could be regarded as a hint to those persons who had stolen a large piece of belting from the Dana Mills. On the other hand, Father O'Meara that morning bravely told his children to conduct themselves in an orderly manner while they were out of work, or they would catch it in this world and in the next.

On the sixth day a keen observer might have detected a change in the atmosphere. The streets were thronged as usual, and the idlers still wore their Sunday clothes, but the holiday buoyancy of the earlier part of the week had evaporated. A turn-out on the part of one of the trades, though it was accompanied by music and a banner with a lively inscription, failed to arouse general enthusiasm. A serious and even a sullen face was not rare among the crowds that wandered aimlessly up and down the village.

On the seventh day it required no penetration to see the change. There was decidedly less good-natured chaffing and more drunkenness, though Snelling had invoked popular contumely and decimated his bar-room by refusing to trust for drinks. Bracket had let his ovens cool, and his shutters were up. The treasury of the trades-union was nearly drained, and there were growlings that too much had been fooled away on banners and a brass band for the iron men's parade the previous forenoon. It was when Brackett's eye sighted the banner with "Bread or Blood" on it, that he had put up his shutters.

Torrini was now making violent harangues at Grimsey's Hall to largely augmented listeners, whom his words irritated without convincing. Shut off from the tavern, the men flocked to hear him and the other speakers, for born orators were just then as thick as unripe whortleberries. There was nowhere else to go. At home were reproaches that maddened, and darkness, for the kerosene had given out.

Though all the trades had been swept into the movement, it is not to be understood that every workman was losing his head. There were men who owned their cottages and had small sums laid by in the savings-bank; who had always sent their children to the district school, and listened themselves to at least one of Mr. Langly's sermons or one of Father O'Meara's discourses every Sunday. These were anchored to good order; they neither frequented the bar-room nor attended the conclaves at Grimsey's Hall, but deplored as deeply as any one the spirit that was manifesting itself. They would have returned to work now—if they had dared. To this class belonged Stevens.

"Why don't you come up to the hall, nights?" asked Durgin, accosting him on the street, one afternoon. "You'd run a chance of hearing me hold forth some of these evenings."

"You've answered your own question, William. I shouldn't like to see you making an idiot of yourself."

"This is a square fight between labor and capital," returned Durgin with dignity, "and every man ought to take a hand in it."

"William," said Stevens meditatively, "do you know about the Siamese twins?"

"What about 'em,—they're dead, ain't they?" replied Durgin, with surprise.

"I believe so; but when they was alive, if you was to pinch one of those fellows, the other fellow would sing out. If you was to black the eye of the left-hand chap, the right-hand chap wouldn't have been able to see for a week. When either of 'em fetched the other a clip, he knocked himself down. Labor and capital is jined just as those two was. When you've got this fact well into your skull, William, I shall be pleased to listen to your ideas at Grimsey's Hall or anywhere else."

Such conservatism as Stevens's, however, was necessarily swept out of sight for the moment. The wealthier citizens were in a state bordering on panic,—all but Mr. Lemuel Shackford. In his flapping linen duster, for the weather was very sultry now, Mr. Shackford was seen darting excitedly from street to street and hovering about the feverish crowds, like the stormy petrel wheeling on the edges of a gale. Usually as chary of his sympathies as of his gold, he astonished every one by evincing an abnormal interest in the strikers. The old man declined to put down anything on the subscription paper then circulating; but he put down his sympathies to any amount. He held no stock in the concerns involved; he hated Slocum, and he hated the directors of the Miantowona Iron Works. The least he hoped was that Rowland Slocum would be laid out.

So far the strikers had committed no overt act of note, unless it was the demolition of Han-Lin's laundry. Stubbs, the provision dealer, had been taught the rashness of exposing samples of potatoes in his door-way, and the "Tonsorial Emporium" of Professor Brown, a colored citizen, had been invaded by two humorists, who, after having their hair curled, refused to pay for it, and the professor had been too agitated to insist. The story transpiring, ten or twelve of the boys had dropped in during the morning, and got shaved on the same terms. "By golly, gen'l'men!" expostulated the professor, "ef dis yah thing goes on, dis darkey will be cleaned cl'ar out fo de week's done." No act of real violence had been perpetrated as yet; but with bands of lawless men roaming over the village at all hours of the day and night, the situation was critical.

The wheel of what small social life there was in Stillwater had ceased to revolve. With the single exception of Lemuel Shackford, the more respectable inhabitants kept in-doors as much as practicable. From the first neither Mr. Craggie nor Lawyer Perkins had gone to the hotel to consult the papers in the reading-room, and Mr. Pinkham did not dare to play on his flute of an evening. The Rev. Arthur Langly found it politic to do but little visiting in the parish. His was not the pinion to buffet with a wind like this, and indeed he was not explicitly called upon to do so. He sat sorrowfully in his study day by day, preparing the weekly sermon,—a gentle, pensive person, inclined in the best of weather to melancholia. If Mr. Langly had gone into arboriculture instead of into the ministry, he would have planted nothing but weeping-willows.

In the mean time the mill directors continued their deliberations in the bank building, and had made several abortive attempts to effect an arrangement with the leaders of the union. This seemed every hour less possible and more necessary.

On the afternoon of the seventh day of the strike a crowd gathered in front of the residence of Mr. Alexander, the superintendent of the Miantowona Iron Works, and began groaning and hooting. Mr. Alexander sought out Mr. Craggie, and urged him, as a man of local weight and one accustomed to addressing the populace, to speak a few words to the mob. That was setting Mr. Craggie on the horns of a cruel dilemma. He was afraid to disoblige the representative of so powerful a corporation as the Miantowona Iron Works, but he equally dreaded to risk his popularity with seven or eight hundred voters; so, like the crafty chancellor in Tennyson's poem, he dallied with his golden chain, and, smiling, but the question by.

"Drat the man!" muttered Mr. Craggie, "does he want to blast my whole political career! I can't pitch into our adopted countrymen."

There was a blot on the escutcheon of Mr. Craggie which he was very anxious not to have uncovered by any chance in these latter days,—his ancient affiliation with the deceased native American party.

The mob dispersed without doing damage, but the fact that it had collected and had shown an ugly temper sent a thrill of apprehension through the village. Mr. Slocum came in a great flurry to Richard.

"This thing ought to be stopped," said Mr. Slocum.

"I agree to that," replied Richard, bracing himself not to agree to anything else.

"If we were to drop that stipulation as to the increase of apprentices, no doubt many of the men would give over insisting on an advance."

"Our only salvation is to stick to our right to train as many workmen as we choose. The question of wages is of no account compared with that; the rate of wages will adjust itself."

"If we could manage it somehow with the marble workers," suggested Mr. Slocum, "that would demoralize the other trades, and they'd be obliged to fall in."

"I don't see that they lack demoralization."

"If something isn't done, they'll end up by knocking in our front doors or burning us all up."

"Let them."

"It's very well to say let them," exclaimed Mr. Slocum, petulantly, "when you haven't any front door to be knocked in!"

"But I have you and Margaret to consider, if there were actual danger. When anything like violence threatens, there's an honest shoulder for every one of the hundred and fifty muskets in the armory."

"Those muskets might get on the wrong shoulders."

"That isn't likely. You do not seem to know, sir, that there is a strong guard at the armory day and night."

"I was not aware of that."

"It is a fact all the same," said Richard; and Mr. Slocum went away easier in his mind, and remained so—two or three hours.

On the eighth, ninth, and tenth days the clouds lay very black along the horizon. The marble workers, who began to see their mistake, were reproaching the foundry men with enticing them into to coalition, and the spinners were hot in their denunciations of the molders. Ancient personal antagonisms that had been slumbering started to their feet. Torrini fell out of favor, and in the midst of one of his finest perorations uncomplimentary missiles, selected from the animal kingdom, had been thrown at him. The grand torchlight procession on the night of the ninth culminated in a disturbance, in which many men got injured, several badly, and the windows of Brackett's bakery were stove in. A point of light had pierced the darkness,—the trades were quarreling among themselves!

The selectmen had sworn in special constables among the citizens, and some of the more retired streets were now patrolled after dark, for there had been threats of incendiarism.

Bishop's stables burst into flames one midnight,—whether fired intentionally or accidentally was not known; but the giant bellows at Dana's Mills was slit and two belts were cut at the Miantowona Iron Works that same night.

At this juncture a report that out-of-town hands were coming to replace the strikers acted on the public mind like petroleum on fire. A large body of workmen assembled near the railway station,—to welcome them. There was another rumor which caused the marble workers to stare at each other aghast. It was to the effect that Mr. Slocum, having long meditated retiring from business, had now decided to do so, and was consulting with Wyndham, the keeper of the green-house, about removing the division wall and turning the marble yard into a peach garden. This was an unlooked-for solution of the difficulty. Stillwater without any Slocum's Marble Yard was chaos come again.

"Good Lord, boys!" cried Piggott, "if Slocum should do that!"

Meanwhile, Snelling's bar had been suppressed by the authorities, and a posse of policemen, borrowed from South Millville, occupied the premises. Knots of beetle-browed men, no longer in holiday gear, but chiefly in their shirt-sleeves, collected from time to time at the head of the main street, and glowered threateningly at the single policeman pacing the porch of the tavern. The Stillwater Grays were under arms in the armory over Dundon's drugstore. The thoroughfare had ceased to be safe for any one, and Margaret's merciful errands were necessarily brought to an end. How the poor creatures who had depended on her bounty now continued to exist was a sorrowful problem.

Matters were at this point, when on the morning of the thirteenth day Richard noticed the cadaverous face of a man peering into the yard through the slats of the main gate. Richard sauntered down there, with his hands in his pockets. The man was old Giles, and with him stood Lumley and Peterson, gazing thoughtfully at the sign outside,—

NO ADMITTANCE EXCEPT ON BUSINESS.

The roughly lettered clapboard, which they had heedlessly passed a thousand times, seemed to have taken a novel significance to them.

Richard. What's wanted there?

Giles. [Very affably.] We was lookin' round for a job, Mr. Shackford.

Richard. We are not taking on any hands at present.

Giles. Didn't know but you was. Somebody said you was.

Richard. Somebody is mistaken.

Giles. P'rhaps to-morrow, or nex' day?

Richard. Rather doubtful, Giles.

Giles. [Uneasily.] Mr. Slocum ain't goin' to give up business, is he?

Richard. Why shouldn't he, if it doesn't pay? The business is carried on for his amusement and profit; when the profit stops it won't be amusing any longer. Mr. Slocum is not going to run the yard for the sake of the Marble Workers' Association. He would rather drive a junk-cart. He might be allowed to steer that himself.

Giles. Oh!

Richard. Good-morning, Giles.

Gikles. 'Mornin', Mr. Shackford.

Richard rushed back to Mr. Slocum.

"The strike is broken, sir!"

"What do you mean?"

"The thing has collapsed! The tide is turning, and has washed in a lot of dead wood!"

"Thank God!" cried Mr. Slocum.

An hour or so later a deputation of four, consisting of Stevens, Denyven, Durgin, and Piggott, waited upon Mr. Slocum in his private office, and offered, on behalf of all the departments, to resume work at the old rates.

Mr. Slocum replied that he had not objected to the old rates, but the new, and that he accepted their offer—conditionally.

"You have overlooked one point, Mr. Stevens."

"Which one, sir?"

"The apprentices."

"We thought you might not insist there, sir."

"I insist on conducting my own business in my own way."

The voice was the voice of Slocum, but the backbone was Richard's.

"Then, sir, the Association don't object to a reasonable number of apprentices."

"How many is that?"

"As many as you want, I expect, sir," said Stevens, shuffling his feet.

"Very well, Stevens. Go round to the front gate and Mr. Shackford will let you in."

There were two doors to the office, one leading into the yard, and the other, by which the deputation had entered and was now making its exit, opened upon the street.

Richard heaved a vast sigh of relief as he took down the beam securing the principal entrance.

"Good-morning, boys," he chirped, with a smile as bright as newly minted gold. "I hope you enjoyed yourselves."

The quartet ducked their heads bashfully, and Stevens replied, "Can't speak for the others, Mr. Shackford, but I never enjoyed myself worse."

Piggott lingered a moment behind the rest, and looking back over his shoulder said, "That peach garden was what fetched us!"

Richard gave a loud laugh, for the peach garden had been a horticultural invention of his own.

In the course of the forenoon the majority of the hands presented themselves at the office, dropping into the yard in gangs of five or six, and nearly all were taken on. To dispose definitely of Lumley, Giles, and Peterson, they were not taken on at Slocum's Yard, though they continued to be, directly or indirectly, Slocum's pensioners, even after they were retired to the town farm.

Once more the chisels sounded merrily under the long shed. That same morning the spinners went back to the mules, but the molders held out until nightfall, when it was signified to them that they demands would be complied with.

The next day the steam-whistles of the Miantowona Iron Works and Dana's Mills sent the echoes flying beyond that undulating line of pines and hemlocks which half encircles Stillwater, and falls away loosely on either side, like an unclasped girdle.

A calm, as if from out the cloudless blue sky that arched it day after day, seemed to drift down upon the village. Han-Lin, with no more facial expression than an orange, suddenly reappeared on the streets, and went about repairing his laundry, unmolested. The children were playing in the sunny lanes again, unafraid, and mothers sat on doorsteps in the summer twilights, singing softly to the baby in arm. There was meat on the table, and the tea-kettle hummed comfortably at the back of the stove. The very winds that rustled through the fragrant pines, and wandered fitfully across the vivid green of the salt marshes, breathed peace and repose.

Then, one morning, this blissful tranquility was rudely shattered. Old Mr. Lemuel Shackford had been found murdered in his own house in Welch's Court.



XVIII



The general effect on Stillwater of Mr. Shackford's death and the peculiar circumstances attending the tragedy have been set forth in the earlier chapters of this narrative. The influence which that event exerted upon several persons then but imperfectly known to the reader is now to occupy us.

On the conclusion of the strike, Richard had returned, in the highest spirits, to his own rooms in Lime Street; but the quiet week that followed found him singularly depressed. His nerves had been strung to their utmost tension during those thirteen days of suspense; he had assumed no light responsibility in the matter of closing the yard, and there had been moments when the task of sustaining Mr. Slocum had appeared almost hopeless. Now that the strain was removed a reaction set in, and Richard felt himself unnerved by the fleeing shadow of the trouble which had not caused him to flinch so long as it faced him.

On the morning and at the moment when Mary Hennessey was pushing open the scullery door of the house in Welch's Court, and was about to come upon the body of the forlorn old man lying there in his night-dress, Richard sat eating his breakfast in a silent and preoccupied mood. He had retired very late the previous night, and his lack-lustre eyes showed the effect of insufficient sleep. His single fellow-boarder, Mr. Pinkham, had not returned from his customary early walk, and only Richard and Mrs. Spooner, the landlady, were at table. The former was in the act of lifting the coffee-cup to his lips, when the school-master burst excitedly into the room.

"Old Mr. Shackford is dead!" he exclaimed, dropping into a chair near the door. "There's a report down in the village that he has been murdered. I don't know if it is true. . . . . God forgive my abruptness! I didn't think!" and Mr. Pinkham turned an apologetic face towards Richard, who sat there deathly pale, holding the cup rigidly within an inch or two of his lip, and staring blankly into space like a statue.

"I—I ought to have reflected," murmured the school-master, covered with confusion at his maladroitness. "It was very reprehensible in Craggie to make such an announcement to me so suddenly, on a street corner. I—I was quite upset by it."

Richard pushed back his chair without replying, and passed into the hall, where he encountered a messenger from Mr. Slocum, confirming Mr. Pinkham's intelligence, but supplementing it with the rumor that Lemuel Shackford had committed suicide.

Richard caught up his hat from a table, and hurried to Welch's Court. Before reaching the house he had somewhat recovered his outward composure; but he was still pale and internally much agitated, for he had received a great shock, as Lawyer Perkins afterwards observed to Mr. Ward in the reading-room of the tavern. Both these gentlemen were present when Richard arrived, as were also several of the immediate neighbors and two constables. The latter were guarding the door against the crowd, which had already begun to collect in the front yard.

A knot of carpenters, with their tool-boxes on their shoulders, had halted at the garden gate on their way to Bishop's new stables, and were glancing curiously at the unpainted facade of the house, which seemed to have taken on a remote, bewildered expression, as if it had an inarticulate sense of the horror within. The men ceased their whispered conversation as Richard approached, and respectfully moved aside to let him pass.

Nothing had been changed in the cheerless room on the ground floor, with its veneered mahogany furniture and its yellowish leprous wall-paper, peeling off at the seams here and there. A cane-seated chair, overturned near the table, had been left untouched, and the body was still lying in the position in which the Hennessey girl had discovered it. A strange chill—something unlike any atmospherical sharpness, a chill that seemed to exhale from the thin, pinched nostrils—permeated the apartment. The orioles were singing madly outside, their vermilion bosoms glowing like live coals against the tender green of the foliage, and appearing to break into flame as they took sudden flights hither and thither; but within all was still. On entering the chamber Richard was smitten by the silence,—that silence which shrouds the dead, and is like no other. Lemuel Shackford had not been kind or cousinly; he had blighted Richard's childhood with harshness and neglect, and had lately heaped cruel insult upon him; but as he stood there alone, and gazed for a moment at the firmly shut lips, upon which the mysterious white dust of death had already settled,—the lips that were never to utter any more bitter things,—the tears gathered in Richard's eyes and ran slowly down his cheeks. After all said and done, Lemuel Shackford was his kinsman, and blood is thicker than water!

Coroner Whidden shortly appeared on the scene, accompanied by a number of persons; a jury was impaneled, and then began that inquest which resulted in shedding so very little light on the catastrophe.

The investigation completed, there were endless details to attend to,—papers to be hurriedly examined and sealed, and arrangements made for the funeral on the succeeding day. These matters occupied Richard until late in the afternoon, when he retired to his lodgings, looking in on Margaret for a few minutes on his way home.

"This is too dreadful!" said Margaret, clinging to his hand, with fingers nearly as icy as his own.

"It is unspeakably sad," answered Richard,—"the saddest thing I ever knew."

"Who—who could have been so cruel?"

Richard shook his head.

"No one knows."

The funeral took place on Thursday, and on Friday morning, as has been stated, Mr. Taggett arrived in Stillwater, and installed himself in Welch's Court, to the wonder of many in the village, who would not have slept a night in that house, with only a servant in the north gable, for half the universe. Mr. Taggett was a person who did not allow himself to be swayed by his imagination.

Here, then, he began his probing of a case which, on the surface, promised to be a very simple one. The man who had been seen driving rapidly along the turnpike sometime near daybreak, on Wednesday, was presumably the man who could tell him all about it. But it did not prove so. Neither Thomas Blufton, nor William Durgin, nor any of the tramps subsequently obliged to drop into autobiography could be connected with the affair.

These first failures served to stimulate Mr. Taggett; it required a complex case to stir his ingenuity and sagacity. That the present was not a complex case he was still convinced, after four days' futile labor upon it. Mr. Shackford had been killed—either with malice prepense or on the spur of the moment—for his money. The killing had likely enough not been premeditated; the old man had probably opposed the robbery. Now, among the exceptionally rough population of the town there were possibly fifty men who would not have hesitated to strike down Mr. Shackford if he had caught them flagrante delicto and resisted them, or attempted to call for succor. That the crime was committed by some one in Stillwater or in the neighborhood Mr. Taggett had never doubted since the day of his arrival. The clumsy manner in which the staple had been wrenched from the scullery door showed the absence of a professional hand. Then the fact that the deceased was in the habit of keeping money in his bedchamber was a fact well known in the village, and not likely to be known outside of it, though of course it might have been. It was clearly necessary for Mr. Taggett to carry his investigation into the workshops and among the haunts of the class which was indubitably to furnish him with the individual he wanted. Above all, it was necessary that the investigation should be secret. An obstacle obtruded itself here: everybody in Stillwater knew everybody, and a stranger appearing on the streets or dropping frequently into the tavern would not escape comment.

The man with the greatest facility for making the requisite searches would of course be some workman. But a workman was the very agent not to be employed under the circumstances. How many times, and by what strange fatality, had a guilty party been selected to shadow his own movements, or those of an accomplice! No, Mr. Taggett must rely only on himself, and his plan forthwith matured. Its execution, however, was delayed several days, the cooperation of Mr. Slocum and Mr. Richard Shackford being indispensable.

At this stage Richard went to New York, where his cousin had made extensive investments in real estate. For a careful man, the late Mr. Shackford had allowed his affairs there to become strangely tangled. The business would detain Richard a fortnight.

Three days after his departure Mr. Taggett himself left Stillwater, having apparently given up the case; a proceeding which was severely criticized, not only in the columns of The Stillwater Gazette, but by the townsfolks at large, who immediately relapsed into a state of apprehension approximating that of the morning when the crime was discovered. Mr. Pinkham, who was taking tea that evening at the Danas', threw the family into a panic by asserting his belief that this was merely the first of a series of artistic assassinations in the manner of those Memorable Murders recorded by De Quincey. Mr. Pinkham may have said this to impress the four Dana girls with the variety of his reading, but the recollection of De Quincey's harrowing paper had the effect of so unhinging the young school-master that when he found himself, an hour or two afterwards, in the lonely, unlighted street he flitted home like a belated ghost, and was ready to drop at every tree-box.

The next forenoon a new hand was taken on at Slocum's Yard. The new hand, who had come on foot from South Millville, at which town he had been set down by the seven o'clock express that morning, was placed in the apprentice department,—there were five or six apprentices now. Though all this was part of an understood arrangement, Mr. Slocum nearly doubted the fidelity of his own eyes when Mr. Taggett, a smooth-faced young fellow of one and twenty, if so old, with all the traits of an ordinary workman down to the neglected fingernails, stepped up to the desk to have the name of Blake entered on the pay-roll. Either by chance or by design, Mr. Taggett had appeared but seldom on the streets of Stillwater; the few persons who had had anything like familiar intercourse with him in his professional capacity were precisely the persons with whom his present movements were not likely to bring him into juxtaposition, and he ran slight risk of recognition by others. With his hair closely cropped, and the overhanging brown mustache removed, the man was not so much disguised as transformed. "I shouldn't have known him!" muttered Mr. Slocum, as he watched Mr. Taggett passing from the office with his hat in his hand. During the ensuing ten or twelve days Mr. Slocum never wholly succeeded in extricating himself from the foggy uncertainty generated by that one brief interview. From the moment Mr. Taggett was assigned a bench under the sheds, Mr. Slocum saw little or nothing of him.

Mr. Taggett took lodging in a room in one of the most crowded of the low boarding-houses,—a room accommodating two beds besides his own: the first occupied by a brother neophyte in marble-cutting, and the second by a morose middle-aged man with one eyebrow a trifle higher than the other, as if it had been wrenched out of line by the strain of habitual intoxication. This man's name was Wollaston, and he worked at Dana's.

Mr. Taggett's initial move was to make himself popular in the marble yard, and especially at the tavern, where he spent money freely, though not so freely as to excite any remark except that the lad was running through pretty much all his small pay,—a recklessness which was charitably condoned in Snelling's bar-room. He formed multifarious friendships, and had so many sensible views on the labor problem, advocating the general extinguishment of capitalists, and so on, that his admittance to the Marble Workers' Association resolved itself into merely a question of time. The old prejudice against apprentices was already wearing off. The quiet, evasive man of few words was now a loquacious talker, holding his own with the hardest hitters, and very skillful in giving offense to no one. "Whoever picks up Blake for a fool," Dexter remarked one night, "will put him down again." Not a shadow of suspicion followed Mr. Taggett in his various comings and goings. He seemed merely a good-natured, intelligent devil; perhaps a little less devilish and a trifle more intelligent than the rest, but not otherwise different. Denyven, Peters, Dexter, Willson, and others in and out of the Slocum clique were Blake's sworn friends. In brief, Mr. Taggett had the amplest opportunities to prosecute his studies. Only for a pained look which sometimes latterly shot into his eyes, as he worked at the bench, or as he walked alone in the street, one would have imagined that he was thoroughly enjoying the half-vagabond existence.

The supposition would have been erroneous, for in the progress of those fourteen days' apprenticeship Mr. Taggett had received a wound in the most sensitive part of his nature: he had been forced to give up what no man ever relinquishes without a wrench,—his own idea.

With the exception of an accident in Dana's Mill, by which Torrini's hand had been so badly mangled that amputation was deemed necessary, the two weeks had been eventless outside of Mr. Taggett's personal experience. What that experience was will transpire in its proper place. Margaret was getting daily notes from Richard, and Mr. Slocum, overburdened with the secret of Mr. Taggett's presence in the yard,—a secret confined exclusively to Mr. Slocum, Richard, and Justice Beemis,—was restlessly awaiting developments.

The developments came that afternoon when Mr. Taggett walked into the office and startled Mr. Slocum, sitting at the desk. The two words which Mr. Taggett then gravely and coldly whispered in Mr. Slocum's ear were,—

"RICHARD SHACKFORD."



XIX



Mr. Slocum, who had partly risen from the chair, sank back into his seat. "Good God!" he said, turning very pale. "Are you mad?"

Mr. Taggett realized the cruel shock which the pronouncing of that name must have caused Mr. Slocum. Mr. Taggett had meditated his line of action, and had decided that the most merciful course was brusquely to charge young Shackford with the crime, and allow Mr. Slocum to sustain himself for a while with the indignant disbelief which would be natural to him, situated as he was. He would then in a manner be prepared for the revelations which, if suddenly presented, would crush him.

If Mr. Taggett was without imagination, as he claimed, he was not without a certain feminine quickness of sympathy often found in persons engaged in professions calculated to blunt the finer sensibilities. In his intercourse with Mr. Slocum at the Shackford house, Mr. Taggett had been won by the singular gentleness and simplicity of the man, and was touched by his misfortune.

After his exclamation, Mr. Slocum did not speak for a moment or two, but with his elbows resting on the edge of the desk sat motionless, like a person stunned. Then he slowly lifted his face, to which the color had returned, and making a movement with his right hand as if he were sweeping away cobwebs in front of him rose from the chair.

"You are simply mad," he said, looking Mr. Taggett squarely and calmly in the eyes. "Are you aware of Mr. Richard Shackford's character and his position here?"

"Precisely."

"Do you know that he is to marry my daughter?"

"I am very sorry for you, sir."

"You may spare me that. It is quite unnecessary. You have fallen into some horrible delusion. I hope you will be able to explain it."

"I am prepared to do so, sir."

"Are you serious?"

"Very serious, Mr. Slocum."

"You actually imagine that Richard Shackford—Pshaw! It's simply impossible!"

"I am too young a man to wish even to seem wiser than you, but my experience has taught me that nothing is impossible."

"I begin to believe so myself. I suppose you have grounds, or something you consider grounds, for your monstrous suspicion. What are they? I demand to be fully informed of what you have been doing in the yard, before you bring disgrace upon me and my family by inconsiderately acting on some wild theory which perhaps ten words can refute."

"I should be in the highest degree criminal, Mr. Slocum, if I were to make so fearful an accusation against any man unless I had the most incontestable evidence in my hands."

Mr. Taggett spoke with such cold-blooded conviction that a chill crept over Mr. Slocum, in spite of him.

"What is the nature of this evidence?"

"Up to the present stage, purely circumstantial."

"I can imagine that," said Mr. Slocum, with a slight smile.

"But so conclusive as to require no collateral evidence. The testimony of an eye-witness of the crime could scarcely add to my knowledge of what occurred that Tuesday night in Lemuel Shackford's house."

"Indeed, it is all so clear! But of course a few eye-witnesses will turn up eventually," said Mr. Slocum, whose whiteness about the lips discounted the assurance of his sarcasm.

"That is not improbable," returned Mr. Taggett.

"And meanwhile what are the facts?"

"They are not easily stated. I have kept a record of my work day by day, since the morning I entered the yard. The memoranda are necessarily confused, the important and the unimportant being jumbled together; but the record as it stands will answer your question more fully than I could, even if I had the time—which I have not—to go over the case with you. I can leave these notes in your hands, if you desire it. When I return from New York"—

"You are going to New York!" exclaimed Mr. Slocum, with a start. "When?"

"This evening."

"If you lay a finger on Richard Shackford, you will make the mistake of your life, Mr. Taggett!"

"I have other business there. Mr. Shackford will be in Stillwater to-morrow night. He engaged a state-room on the Fall River boat this morning."

"How can you know that?"

"Since last Tuesday none of his movements have been unknown to me."

"Do you mean to say that you have set your miserable spies upon him?" cried Mr. Slocum.

"I should not state the fact in just those words," Mr. Taggett answered. "The fact remains."

"Pardon me," said Mr. Slocum. "I am not quite myself. Can you wonder at it?"

"I do not wonder."

"Give me those papers you speak of, Mr. Taggett. I would like to look through them. I see that you are a very obstinate person when you have once got a notion into your head. Perhaps I can help you out of your error before it is irreparable." Then, after hesitating a second, Mr. Slocum added, "I may speak of this to my daughter? Indeed, I could scarcely keep it from her."

"Perhaps it is better she should be informed."

"And Mr. Shackford, when he returns to-morrow?"

"If he broaches the subject of his cousin's death, I advise you to avoid it."

"Why should I?"

"It might save you or Miss Slocum some awkwardness,—but you must use your own discretion. As the matter stands it makes no difference whether Mr. Shackford knows his position to-day or to-morrow. It is too late for him to avail himself of the knowledge. Otherwise, of course, I should not have given myself away in this fashion."

"Very well," said Mr. Slocum, with an impatient movement of his shoulders; "neither I nor my daughter will open our lips on this topic. In the mean while you are to take no further steps without advising me. That is understood?"

"That is perfectly understood," returned Mr. Taggett, drawing a narrow red note-book from the inner pocket of his workman's blouse, and producing at the same time a small nickel-plated door-key. "This is the key of Mr. Shackford's private workshop in the extension. I have not been able to replace it on the mantel-shelf of his sitting-room in Lime Street. Will you have the kindness to see that it is done at once?"

A moment later Mr. Slocum stood alone in the office, with Mr. Taggett's diary in his hand. It was one of those costly little volumes—gilt-edged and bound in fragrant crushed Levant morocco—with which city officials are annually supplied by a community of grateful taxpayers.

The dark crimson of the flexible covers, as soft and slippery to the touch as a snake's skin, was perhaps the fitting symbol of the darker story that lay coiled within. With a gesture of repulsion, as if some such fancy had flitted through his mind, Mr. Slocum tossed the note-book on the desk in front of him, and stood a few minutes moodily watching the reflets of the crinkled leather as the afternoon sunshine struck across it. Beneath his amazement and indignation he had been chilled to the bone by Mr. Taggett's brutal confidence. It was enough to chill one, surely; and in spite of himself Mr. Slocum began to feel a certain indefinable dread of that little crimson-bound book.

Whatever it contained, the reading of those pages was to be a repellent task to him; it was a task to which he could not bring himself at the moment; to-night, in the privacy of his own chamber, he would sift Mr. Taggett's baleful fancies. Thus temporizing, Mr. Slocum dropped the volume into his pocket, locked the office door behind him, and wandered down to Dundon's drug-store to kill the intervening hour before supper-time. Dundon's was the aristocratic lounging place of the village,—the place where the only genuine Havana cigars in Stillwater were to be had, and where the favored few, the initiated, could get a dash of hochheimer or cognac with their soda-water.

At supper, that evening, Mr. Slocum addressed scarcely a word to Margaret, and Margaret was also silent. The days were dragging heavily with her; she was missing Richard. Her own daring travels had never extended beyond Boston or Providence; and New York, with Richard in it, seemed drearily far away. Mr. Slocum withdrew to his chamber shortly after nine o'clock, and, lighting the pair of candles on the dressing-table, began his examination of Mr. Taggett's memoranda.

At midnight the watchman on his lonely beat saw those two candles still burning.



XX



Mr. Taggett's diary was precisely a diary,—disjoined, full of curt, obscure phrases and irrelevant reflections,—for which reason it will not be reproduced here. Though Mr. Slocum pondered every syllable, and now and then turned back painfully to reconsider some doubtful passage, it is not presumed that the reader will care to do so. An abstract of the journal, with occasional quotation where the writer's words seem to demand it, will be sufficient for the narrative.

In the opening pages Mr. Taggett described his novel surroundings with a minuteness which contrasted oddly with the brief, hurried entries further on. He found himself, as he had anticipated, in a society composed of some of the most heterogeneous elements. Stillwater, viewed from a certain point, was a sort of microcosm, a little international rag-fair to which nearly every country on earth had contributed one of its shabby human products. "I am moving," wrote Mr. Taggett, "in an atmosphere in which any crime is possible. I give myself seven days at the outside to light upon the traces of Shackford's murder. I feel him in the air." The writer's theory was that the man would betray his identity in one of two ways: either by talking unguardedly, or by indulging in expenditures not warranted by his means and position. If several persons had been concerned in the crime, nothing was more likely than a disagreement over the spoil, and consequent treachery on the part of one of them. Or, again, some of the confederates might become alarmed, and attempt to save themselves by giving away their comrades. Mr. Taggett, however, leaned to the belief that the assassin had had no accomplices.

The sum taken from Mr. Shackford's safe was a comparatively large one,—five hundred dollars in gold and nearly double that amount in bank-notes. Neither the gold nor the paper bore any known mark by which it could be recognized; the burglar had doubtless assured himself of this, and would not hesitate to disburse the money. That was even a safer course, judiciously worked, than to secrete it. The point was, Would he have sufficient self-control to get rid of it by degrees? The chances, Mr. Taggett argued, were ten to one he would not.

A few pages further on Mr. Taggett compliments the Unknown on the adroit manner in which he is conducting himself. He has neither let slip a suspicious word, nor made an incautious display of his booty. Snelling's bar was doing an unusually light business. No one appeared to have any money. Many of the men had run deeply into debt during the late strike, and were now drinking moderately. In the paragraph which closes the week's record Mr. Taggett's chagrin is evident. He confesses that he is at fault. "My invisible friend does not materialize so successfully as I expected," is Mr. Taggett's comment.

His faith in the correctness of his theory had not abated; but he continued his observation sin a less sanguine spirit. These observations were not limited to the bar-room or the workshop; he informed himself of the domestic surroundings of his comrades. Where his own scrutiny could not penetrate, he employed the aid of correspondents. He knew what workmen had money in the local savings-bank, and the amount of each deposit. In the course of his explorations of the shady side of Stillwater life, Mr. Taggett unearthed many amusing and many pathetic histories, but nothing that served his end. Finally, he began to be discouraged.

Returning home from the tavern, one night, in a rather desponding mood, he found the man Wollaston smoking his pipe in bed. Wollaston was a taciturn man generally, but this night he was conversational, and Mr. Taggett, too restless to sleep, fell to chatting with him. Did he know much about the late Mr. Shackford? Yes, he had known him well enough, in an off way,—not to speak of him; everybody knew him in Stillwater; he was a sort of miser, hated everybody, and bullied everybody. It was a wonder somebody didn't knock the old silvertop on the head years ago.

Thus Mr. Wollaston grimly, with his pores stopped up with iron-fillings,—a person to whom it would come quite easy to knock any one on the head for a slight difference of opinion. He amused Mr. Taggett in his present humor.

No, he wasn't aware that Shackford had had trouble with any particular individual; believed he did have a difficulty once with Slocum, the marble man; but he was always fetching suits against the town and shying lawyers at the mill directors,—a disagreeable old cuss altogether. Adopted his cousin, one time, but made the house so hot for him that the lad ran off to sea, and since then had had nothing to do with the old bilk.

Indeed! What sort of fellow was young Shackford? Mr. Wollaston could not say of his own knowledge; thought him a plucky chap; he had put a big Italian named Torrini out of the yard, one day, for talking back. Who was Torrini? The man that got hurt last week in the Dana Mill. Who were Richard Shackford's intimates? Couldn't say; had seen him with Mr. Pinkham, the school-master, and Mr. Craggie,—went with the upper crust generally. Was going to be partner in the marble yard and marry Slocum's daughter. Will Durgin knew him. They lived together one time. He, Wollaston, was going to turn in now.

Several of these facts were not new to Mr. Taggett, but Mr. Wollaston's presentation of them threw Mr. Taggett into a reverie.

The next evening he got Durgin alone in a corner of the bar-room. With two or three potations Durgin became autobiographical. Was he acquainted with Mr. Shackford outside the yard? Rather. Dick Shackford? His (Durgin's) mother had kept Dick from starving when he was a baby,—and no thanks for it. Went to school with him, and knew all about his running off to sea. Was near going with him. Old man Shackford never liked Dick, who was a proud beggar; they couldn't pull together, down to the last,—both of a piece. They had a jolly rumpus a little while before the old man was fixed.

Mr. Taggett pricked up his ears at this.

A rumpus? How did Durgin know that? A girl told him. What girl? A girl he was sweet on. What was her name? Well, he didn't mind telling her name; it was Molly Hennessey. She was going through Welch's Court one forenoon,—may be it was three days before the strike,—and saw Dick Shackford bolt out of the house, swinging his arms and swearing to himself at an awful rate. Was Durgin certain that Molly Hennessey had told him this? Yes, he was ready to take his oath on it.

Here, at last, was something that looked like a glimmer of daylight.

It was possible that Durgin or the girl had lied; but the story had an air of truth to it. If it were a fact that there had recently been a quarrel between these cousins, whose uncousinly attitude towards each other was fast becoming clear to Mr. Taggett, then here was a conceivable key to an enigma which had puzzled him.

The conjecture that Lemuel Shackford had himself torn up the will—if it was a will, for this still remained in dispute—had never been satisfactory to Mr. Taggett. He had accepted it because he was unable to imagine an ordinary burglar pausing in the midst of his work to destroy a paper in which he could have no concern. But Richard Shackford would have the liveliest possible interest in the destruction of a document that placed a vast estate beyond his reach. Here was a motive on a level with the crime. That money had been taken, and that the fragments of the will had been carelessly thrown into a waste-paper basket, just as if the old man himself had thrown them there, was a stroke of art which Mr. Taggett admired more and more as he reflected upon it.

He did not, however, allow himself to lay too much stress on these points; for the paper might turn out to be merely an expired lease, and the girl might have been quizzing Durgin. Mr. Taggett would have given one of his eye-teeth just then for ten minutes with Mary Hennessey. But an interview with her at this stage was neither prudent nor easily compassed.

"If I have not struck a trail," writes Mr. Taggett, "I have come upon what strongly resembles one; the least I can do is to follow it. My first move must be to inspect that private workshop in the rear of Mr. Slocum's house. How shall I accomplish it? I cannot apply to him for permission, for that would provoke questions which I am not ready to answer. Moreover, I have yet to assure myself that Mr. Slocum is not implicated. There seems to have been also a hostile feeling existing between him and the deceased. Why didn't some one tell me these things at the start! If young Shackford is the person, there is a tangled story to be unraveled. Mem: Young Shackford is Miss Slocum's lover."

Mr. Slocum read this passage twice without drawing breath, and then laid down the book an instant to wipe the sudden perspiration from his forehead.

In the note which followed, Mr. Taggett described the difficulty he met with in procuring a key to fit the wall-door at the rear of the marble yard, and gave an account of his failure to effect an entrance into the studio. He had hoped to find a window unfastened; but the window, as well as the door opening upon the veranda, was locked, and in the midst of his operations, which were conducted at noon-time, the approach of a servant had obliged him to retreat.

Forced to lay aside, at least temporarily, his designs on the workshop, he turned his attention to Richard's lodgings in Lime Street. Here Mr. Taggett was more successful. On the pretext that he had been sent for certain drawings which were to be found on the table or in a writing-desk, he was permitted by Mrs. Spooner to ascend to the bedroom, where she obligingly insisted on helping him search for the apocryphal plans, and seriously interfered with his purpose, which was to find the key of the studio. While Mr. Taggett was turning over the pages of a large dictionary, in order to gain time, and was wondering how he could rid himself of the old lady's importunities, he came upon a half-folded note-sheet, at the bottom of which his eye caught the name of Lemuel Shackford. It was in the handwriting of the dead man. Mr. Taggett was very familiar with that handwriting. He secured the paper at a venture, and put it in his pocket without examination.

A few minutes later, it being impossible to prolong the pretended quest for the drawings, Mr. Taggett was obliged to follow Mrs. Spooner from the apartment. As he did so he noticed a bright object lying on the corner of the mantel-shelf,—a small nickel-plated key. In order to take it he had only to reach out his hand in passing. It was, as Mr. Taggett had instantly surmised, the key of Richard's workshop.

If it had been gold, instead of brass or iron, that bit of metal would have taken no additional value in Mr. Taggett's eyes. On leaving Mrs. Spooner's he held it tightly clasped in his fingers until he reached an unfrequented street, where he halted a moment in the shadow of a building to inspect the paper, which he had half forgotten in his satisfaction at having obtained the key. A stifled cry rose to Mr. Taggett's lips as he glanced over the crumpled note-sheet.

It contained three lines, hastily scrawled in lead-pencil, requesting Richard Shackford to call at the house in Welch's Court at eight o'clock on a certain Tuesday night. The note had been written, as the date showed, on the day preceding the Tuesday night in question—the night of the murder!

For a second or two Mr. Taggett stood paralyzed. Ten minutes afterwards a message in cipher was pulsing along the wires to New York, and before the sun went down that evening Richard Shackford was under the surveillance of the police.

The doubtful, unknown ground upon which Mr. Taggett had been floundering was now firm under his feet,—unexpected ground, but solid. Meeting Mary Hennessey in the street, on his way to the marble yard, Mr. Taggett no longer hesitated to accost her, and question her as to the story she had told William Durgin. The girl's story was undoubtedly true, and as a piece of circumstantial evidence was only less important than the elder Shackford's note. The two cousins had been for years on the worst of terms. At every step Mr. Taggett had found corroboration of Wollaston's statement to that effect.

"Where were Coroner Whidden's eyes and ears," wrote Mr. Taggett,—the words were dashed down impatiently on the page, as if he had sworn a little internally while writing them,—"when he conducted that inquest! In all my experience there was never a thing so stupidly managed."

A thorough and immediate examination of Richard Shackford's private workshop was now so imperative that Mr. Taggett resolved to make it even if he had to do so under the authority of a search-warrant. But he desired as yet to avoid publicity.

A secret visit to the studio seemed equally difficult by day and night. In the former case he was nearly certain to be deranged by the servants, and in the latter a light in the unoccupied room would alarm any of the household who might chance to awaken. From the watchman no danger was to be apprehended, as the windows of the extension were not visible from the street.

Mr. Taggett finally decided on the night as the more propitious time for his attempt,—a decision which his success justified. A brilliant moon favored the in-door part of the enterprise, though it exposed him to observation in his approach from the marble yard to the veranda.

With the dense moonlight streaming outside against the window-shades, he could safely have used a candle in the studio instead of the screened lantern which he had provided. Mr. Taggett passed three hours in the workshop,—the last hour in waiting for the moon to go down. Then he stole through the marble yard into the silent street, and hurried home, carrying two small articles concealed under his blouse. The first was a chisel with a triangular piece broken out of the centre of the bevel, and the other was a box of safety-matches. The peculiarity of this box of matches was—that just one match had been used from it.

Mr. Taggett's work was done.

The last seven pages of the diary were devoted to a review of the case, every detail of which was held up in various lights, and examined with the conscientious pains of a lapidary deciding on the value of a rare stone. The concluding entries ran as follow:—

"Tuesday Night. Here the case passes into other hands. I have been fortunate rather than skillful in unmasking the chief actor in one of the most singular crimes that ever came under my investigation. By destroying three objects, very easily destroyed, Richard Shackford would have put himself beyond the dream of suspicion. He neglected to remove these dumb witnesses, and now the dumb witnesses speak! If it could be shown that he was a hundred miles from Stillwater at the time of the murder, instead of in the village, as he was, he must still be held, in the face of the proofs against him, accessory to the deed. These proofs, roughly summarized, are:—

"First. The fact that he had had an altercation with his cousin a short time previous to the date of the murder,—a murder which may be regarded not as the result of a chance disagreement, but of long years of bitter enmity between the two men.

"Secondly. The fact that Richard Shackford had had an appointment with his cousin on the night the crime was committed, and had concealed that fact from the authorities at the time of the coroner's inquest.

"Thirdly. That the broken chisel found in the private workshop of the accused explains the peculiar shape of the wound which caused Lemuel Shackford's death, and corresponds in every particular with the plaster impression taken of that wound.

"Fourthly. That the partially consumed match found on the scullery floor when the body was discovered (a style of match not used in the house in Welch's Court) completes the complement of a box of safety-matches belonging to Richard Shackford, and hidden in a closet in his workshop.

"Whether Shackford had an accomplice or not is yet to be ascertained. There is nothing whatever to implicate Mr. Rowland Slocum. I make the statement because his intimate association with one party and his deep dislike of the other invited inquiry, and at first raised an unjust suspicion in my mind."

The little red book slipped from Mr. Slocum's grasp and fell at his feet. As he rose from the chair, the reflection which he caught of himself in the dressing-table mirror was that of a wrinkled, white old man.

Mr. Slocum did not believe, and no human evidence could have convinced him, that Richard had deliberately killed Lemuel Shackford; but as Mr. Slocum reached the final pages of the diary, a horrible probability insinuated itself in his mind. Could Richard have done it accidentally? Could he—in an instant of passion, stung to sudden madness by that venomous old man—have struck him involuntarily, and killed him? A certain speech which Richard had made in Mr. Slocum's presence not long before came back to him now with fearful emphasis:—

"Three or four times in my life I have been carried away by a devil of a temper which I couldn't control, it seized me so unawares."

"It seized me so unawares!" repeated Mr. Slocum, half aloud; and then with a swift, unconscious gesture, he pressed his hands over his ears, as if to shut out the words.



XXI



Margaret must be told. It would be like stabbing her to tell her all this. Mr. Slocum had lain awake long after midnight, appalled by the calamity that was about to engulf them. At moments, as his thought reverted to Margaret's illness early in the spring, he felt that perhaps it would have been a mercy if she had died then. He had left the candles burning; it was not until the wicks sunk down in the sockets and went softly out that slumber fell upon him.

He was now sitting at the breakfast-table, absently crumbling bits of bread beside his plate and leaving his coffee untouched. Margaret glanced at him wistfully from time to time, and detected the restless night in the deepened lines of his face.

The house had not been the same since Lemuel Shackford's death; he had never crossed its threshold; Margaret had scarcely known him by sight, and Mr. Slocum had not spoken to him for years; but Richard's connection with the unfortunate old man had brought the tragic event very close to Margaret and her father. Mr. Slocum was a person easily depressed, but his depression this morning was so greatly in excess of the presumable cause that Margaret began to be troubled.

"Papa, has anything happened?"

"No, nothing new has happened; but I am dreadfully disturbed by some things which Mr. Taggett has been doing here in the village."

"I thought Mr. Taggett had gone."

"He did go; but he came back very quietly without anybody's knowledge. I knew it, of course; but no one else, to speak of."

"What has he done to disturb you?"

"I want you to be a brave girl, Margaret,—will you promise that?"

"Why, yes," said Margaret, with an anxious look. "You frighten me with your mysteriousness."

"I do not mean to be mysterious, but I don't quite know how to tell you about Mr. Taggett. He has been working underground in this matter of poor Shackford's death,—boring in the dark like a mole,—and thinks he has discovered some strange things."

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