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The Stillwater Tragedy
by Thomas Bailey Aldrich
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Father O'Meara paused a moment. "After the accident at the mill and the conviction that he was not to recover, Torrini's conscience began to prick him. When he reflected on Miss Slocum's kindness to his family during the strike, when he now saw her saving his wife and children from absolute starvation, he was nearly ready to break the oath with which he had bound himself to William Durgin. Curiously enough, this man, so reckless in many things, held his pledged word sacred. Meanwhile his wavering condition became apparent to Durgin, who grew alarmed, and demanded the stolen property. Torrini refused to give it up; even his own bitter necessities had not tempted him to touch a penny of it. For the last three days he was in deadly terror lest Durgin should wrest the money from him by force. The poor woman, here, knows nothing of all this. It was her presence, however, which probably prevented Durgin from proceeding to extremities with Torrini, who took care never to be left alone."

"I recollect," said Richard, "the night I watched with him he was constantly expecting some one. I supposed him to be wandering in his mind."

"He was expecting Durgin, though Torrini had every reason for believing that he had fled."

Mr. Taggett leaned forward, and asked, "When did he go,—and where?"

"He was too cunning to confide his plans to Torrini. Three nights ago Durgin came here and begged for a portion of the bank-note; previously he had reclaimed the whole sum; he said the place was growing too warm for him, and that he had made up his mind to leave. But Torrini held on to the money, having resolved that it should be restored intact to you. He promised Durgin, however, to keep his flight secret for three or four days, at the end of which time Torrini meant to reveal all to me at confession. The night you sat with him, Mr. Shackford, he was near breaking his promise; your kindness was coals of fire on his head. His agony, lest he should die or lose his senses before he could make known the full depth of Durgin's villainy, must have been something terrible. This is the substance of what the poor creature begged me to say to you with his dying regrets. The money is hidden somewhere under the mattress, I believe. A better man than Torrini would have spent some of it," added Father O'Meara, waving a sort of benediction in the direction of the bed.

Richard did not speak for a moment or two. The wretchedness and grimness of it all smote him to the heart. When he looked up Mr. Taggett was gone, and the priest was gently drawing the coverlet over Torrini's face.

Richard approached Father O'Meara and said: "When the money is found, please take charge of it, and see that every decent arrangement is made. I mean, spare nothing. I am a Protestant, but I believe in any man's prayers when they are not addressed to a heathen image. I promised Torrini to send his wife and children to Italy. This pitiful, miserable gold, which cost so dear and is worth so little, shall be made to do that much good, at least."

As Richard was speaking, a light footfall sounded on the staircase outside; then the door, which stood ajar, was softly pushed open, and Margaret paused on the threshold. At the rustle of her dress Richard turned, and hastened towards her.

"It is all over," he said softly, laying his finger on his lip. Father O'Meara was again kneeling by the bedside.

"Let us go now," whispered Richard to Margaret. It seemed fit that they should leave the living and the dead to the murmured prayers and solemn ministration of the kindly priest. Such later services as Margaret could render to the bereaved woman were not to be wanting.

At the foot of the stairs Richard Shackford halted abruptly, and, oblivious of the two children who were softly chattering together in the doorway, caught Margaret's hand in his.

"Margaret, Torrini has made a confession that sets at rest all question of my cousin's death."

"Do you mean that he"—Margaret faltered, and left the sentence unfinished.

"No; it was William Durgin, God forgive him!"

"William Durgin!" The young girl's fingers closed nervously on Richard's as she echoed the name, and she began trembling. "That—that is stranger yet!"

"I will tell you everything when we get home; this is no time or place; but one thing I must ask you now and here. When you sat with me last night were you aware that Mr. Taggett firmly believed it was I who had killed Lemuel Shackford?"

"Yes," said Margaret.

"That is all I care to know!" cried Richard; "that consoles me!" and the two pairs of great inquisitive eyes looking up from the stone step saw the signorina standing quite mute and colorless with the strange gentleman's arms around her. And the signorina was smiling!



XXVIII



One June Morning, precisely a year from that morning when the reader first saw the daylight breaking upon Stillwater, several workmen with ladders and hammers were putting up a freshly painted sign over the gate of the marble yard. Mr. Slocum and Richard stood on the opposite curbstone, to which they had retired in order to take in the general effect. The new sign read,—Slocum & Shackford. Richard protested against the displacement of its weather-stained predecessor; it seemed to him an act little short of vandalism; but Mr. Slocum was obstinate, and would have it done. He was secretly atoning for a deep injustice, into which Richard had been at once too sensitive and too wise closely to inquire. If Mr. Slocum had harbored a temporary doubt of him Richard did not care to know it; it was quite enough to suspect the fact. His sufficient recompense was that Margaret had not doubted. They had now been married six months. The shadow of the tragedy in Welch's Court had long ceased to oppress them; it had vanished with the hasty departure of Mr. Taggett. Neither he nor William Durgin was ever seen again in the flesh in Stillwater; but they both still led, and will probably continue for years to lead, a sort of phantasmal, legendary life in Snelling's bar-room. Durgin in his flight had left no traces. From time to time, as the months rolled on, a misty rumor was blown to the town of his having been seen in some remote foreign city,—now in one place, and now in another, always on the point of departing, self-pursued like the Wandering Jew; but nothing authentic. His after-fate was to be a sealed book in Stillwater.

"I really wish you had let the old sign stand," said Richard, as the carpenters removed the ladders. "The yard can never be anything but Slocum's Yard."

"It looks remarkably well up thee," replied Mr. Slocum, shading his eyes critically with one hand. "You object to the change, but for my part I don't object to changes. I trust I may live to see the day when even this sign will have to be altered to—Slocum, Shackford & Son. How would you like that?"

"I can't say," returned Richard laughing, as they passed into the yard together. "I should first have to talk it over—with the son!"

The End

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