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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Stillwater Tragedy - Chapter 13
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The Stillwater Tragedy - Chapter 13 Post by :gharlow Category :Long Stories Author :Thomas Bailey Aldrich Date :May 2012 Read :1889

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The Stillwater Tragedy - Chapter 13

CHAPTER XIII

After a turn through the shops to assure himself that order was restored, Richard withdrew in the direction of his studio. Margaret was standing at the head of the stairs, half hidden by the scarlet creeper which draped that end of the veranda.

"What are you doing there?" said Richard looking up with a bright smile.

"Oh, Richard, I saw it all!"

"You didn't see anything worth having white cheeks about."

"But he struck you . . . with the knife, did he not?" said Margaret, clinging to his arm anxiously.

"He didn't have a knife, dear; only a small chisel, which couldn't hurt any one. See for yourself; it is merely a cat-scratch."

Margaret satisfied herself that it was nothing more; but she nevertheless insisted on leading Richard into the workshop, and soothing the slight inflammation with her handkerchief dipped in arnica and water. The elusive faint fragrance of Margaret's hair as she busied herself about him would of itself have consoled Richard for a deep wound. All this pretty solicitude and ministration was new and sweet to him, and when the arnica turned out to be cologne, and scorched his cheek, Margaret's remorse was so delicious that Richard half wished the mixture had been aquafortia.

"You shouldn't have been looking into the yard," he said. "If I had known that you were watching us it would have distracted me. When I am thinking of you I cannot think of anything else, and I had need of my wits for a moment."

"I happened to be on the veranda, and was too frightened to go away. Why did you quarrel?"

In giving Margaret an account of the matter, Richard refrained from any mention of his humiliating visit to Welch's Court that morning. He could neither speak of it nor reflect upon it with composure. The cloud which shadowed his features from time to time was attributed by Margaret to the affair in the yard.

"But this is the end of it, is it not?" she asked, with troubled eyes. "You will not have any further words with him?"

"You needn't worry. If Torrini had not been drinking he would never have lifted his hand against me. When he comes out of his present state, he will be heartily ashamed of himself. His tongue is the only malicious part of him. If he hadn't a taste for drink and oratory,--if he was not 'a born horator,' as Denyven calls him,--he would do well enough."

"No, Richard, he's a dreadful man. I shall never forget his face,--it was some wild animal's. And you, Richard," added Margaret softly, "it grieved me to see you look like that."

"I was wolfish for a moment, I suppose. Things had gone wrong generally. But if you are going to scold me, Margaret, I would rather have some more--arnica."

"I am not going to scold; but while you stood there, so white and terrible,--so unlike yourself,--I felt that I did not know you, Richard. Of course you had to defend yourself when the man attacked you, but I thought for an instant you would kill him."

"Not I," said Richard uneasily, dreading anything like a rebuke from Margaret. "I am mortified that I gave up to my anger. There was no occasion."

"If an intoxicated person were to wander into the yard, papa would send for a constable, and have the person removed."

"Your father is an elderly man," returned Richard, not relishing this oblique criticism of his own simpler method. "What would be proper in his case would be considered cowardly in mine. It was my duty to discharge the fellow, and not let him dispute my authority. I ought to have been cooler, of course. But I should have lost caste and influence with the men if I had shown the least personal fear of Torrini,--if, for example, I had summoned somebody else to do what I didn't dare do myself. I was brought up in the yard, remember, and to a certain extent I have to submit to being weighed in the yard's own scales."

"But a thing cannot be weighed in a scale incapable of containing it," answered Margaret. "The judgment of these rough, uninstruicted men is too narrow for such as you. They quarrel and fight among themselves, and have their ideas of daring; but there is a higher sort of bravery, the bravery of self-control, which I fancy they do not understand very well; so their opinion of it is not worth considering. However, you know better than I."

"No, I do not," said Richard. "Your instinct is finer than my reason. But you _are scolding me, Margaret."

"No, I am loving you," she said softly. "How can I do that more faithfully than by being dissatisfied with anything but the best in you?"

"I wasn't at my best a while ago?"

"No, Richard."

"I can never hope to be worthy of you."

But Margaret protested against that. Having forced him to look at his action through her eyes, she outdid him in humility, and then the conversation drifted off into half-breathed nothings, which, though they were satisfactory enough for these two, would have made a third person yawn.

The occurrence at Slocum's Yard was hotly discussed that night at the Stillwater hotel. Discussions in that long, low bar-room, where the latest village scandal always came to receive the finishing gloss, were apt to be hot. In their criticism of outside men and measures, as well as in their mutual vivisections, there was an unflinching directness among Mr. Snelling's guests which is not to be found in more artificial grades of society. The popular verdict on young Shackford's conduct was as might not have been predicted, strongly in his favor. He had displayed pluck, and pluck of the tougher fibre was a quality held in so high esteem in Stillwater that any manifestation of it commanded respect. And young Shackford had shown a great deal; he had made short work of the most formidable man in the yard, and given the rest to understand that he was not to be tampered with. This had taken many by surprise, for hitherto an imperturbable amiability had been the leading characteristic of Slocum's manager.

"I didn't think he had it in him," declared Dexter.

"Well, ye might," replied Michael Hennessey. "Look at the lad's eye, and the muscles of him. He stands on his own two legs like a monumint, so he does."

"Never saw a monument with two legs, Mike."

"Didn't ye? Wait till ye're layin' at the foot of one. But ye'll wait many a day, me boy. Ye'll be lucky if ye're supploid with a head-stone made out of a dale-board."

"Couldn't get a wooden head-stone short of Ireland, Mike." Retorted Dexter, with a laugh. "You'd have to import it."

"An' so I will; but it won't be got over in time, if ye go on interruptin' gintlemen when they're discoorsin'. What was I sayin', any way, when the blackguard chipped in?" continued Mr. Hennessey, appealing to the company, as he emptied the ashes from his pipe by knocking the bowl in the side of his chair.

"You was talking of Dick Shackford's muscle," said Durgin, "and you never talked wider of the mark. It doesn't take much muscle, or much courage either, to knock a man about when he's in liquor. The two wasn't fairly matched."

"You are right there, Durgin," said Stevens, laying down his newspaper. "They weren't fairly matched. Both men have the same pounds and inches, but Torrini had a weapon and that mad strength that comes to some folks with drink. If Shackford hadn't made a neat twist on the neckerchief, he wouldn't have got off with a scratch."

"Shackford had no call to lay hands on him."

"There you are wrong, Durgin," replied Stevens. "Torrini had no call in the yard; he was making a nuisance of himself. Shackford spoke to him, and told him to go, and when he didn't go Shackford put him out; and he put him out handsomely,--'with neatness and dispatch,' as Slocum's prospectuses has it."

"He was right all the time," said Piggott. "He didn't strike Torrini before or after he was down, and stood at the gate like a gentleman, ready to give Torrini his chance if he wanted it."

"Torrini didn't want it," observed Jemmy Willson. "Ther' isn't nothing mean about Torrini."

"But he 'ad a dozen minds about coming back," said Denyven.

"We ought to have got him out of the place quietly," said Jeff Stavers; "that was our end of the mistake. He is not a bad fellow, but he shouldn't drink."

"He was crazy to come to the yard."

"When a man 'as a day off," observed Denyven, "and the beer isn't narsty, he 'ad better stick to the public 'ouse."

"Oh, you!" exclaimed Durgin. "Your opinion don't weigh. You took a black eye of him."

"Yes, I took a black heye,--and I can give one, in a hemergency. Yes, I gives and takes."

"That's where we differ," returned Durgin. "I do a more genteel business; I give, and don't take."

"Unless you're uncommon careful," said Denyven, pulling away at his pipe, "you'll find yourself some day henlarging your business."

Durgin pushed back his stool.

"Gentlemen! gentlemen!" interposed Mr. Snelling, appearing from beind the bar with a lemon-squeezer in his hand, "we'll have no black eyes here that wasn't born so. I am partial to them myself when nature gives them; and I propose the health of Miss Molly Hennessey," with a sly glance at Durgin, who colored, "to be drank at the expense of the house. Name your taps, gentlemen."

"Snelling, me boy, ye'd wint the bird from the bush with yer beguilin' ways. Ye've brought proud tears to the eyes of an aged parent, and I'll take a sup out of that high-showldered bottle which you kape under the counter for the gentle-folk in the other room."

A general laugh greeted Mr. Hennessey's selection, and peace was restored; but the majority of those present were workmen from Slocum's, and the event of the afternoon remained the uppermost theme.

"Shackford is a different build from Slocum," said Piggott.

"I guess the yard will find that out when he gets to be proprietor," rejoined Durgin, clicking his spoon against the empty glass to attract Snelling's attention.

"Going to be proprietor, is he?"

"Some day or other," answered Durgin. "First he'll step into the business, and then into the family. He's had his eye on Slocum's girl these four or five years. Got a cast of her fist up in his workshop. Leave Dick Shackford alone for lining his nest and making it soft all round."

"Why shouldn't he?" asked Stevens. "He deserves a good girl, and there's none better. If sickness or any sort of trouble comes to a poor man's door, she's never far off with her kind words and them things the rich have when they are laid up."

"Oh, the girl is well enough."

"You couldn't say less. Before your mother died,"--Mrs. Durgin had died the previous autumn,--"I see that angil going to your house many a day with a little basket of comforts tucked under her wing. But she's too good to be praised in such a place as this," added Stevens. After a pause he inquired, "What makes you down on Shackford? He has always been a friend to you."

"One of those friends who walk over your head," replied Durgin. "I was in the yard two years before him, and see where he is."

"Lord love you," said Stevens, leaning back in his chair and contemplating Durgin thoughtfully, "there is marble and marble; some is Carrara marble, and some isn't. The fine grain takes a polish you can't get on to the other."

"Of course, he is statuary marble, and I'm full of seams and feldspar."

"You are like the most of us,--not the kind that can be worked up into anything very ornamental."

"Thank you for nothing," said Durgin, turning away. "I came from as good a quarry as ever Dick Shackford. Where's Torrini to-night?"

"Nobody has seen him since the difficulty," said Dexter, "except Peters. Torrini sent for him after supper."

As Dexter spoke, the door opened and Peters entered. He went directly to the group composed chiefly of Slocum's men, and without making any remark began to distribute among them certain small blue tickets, which they pocketed in silence. Glancing carelessly at his piece of card-board, Durgin said to Peters,--

"Then it's decided?"

Peters nodded.

"How's Torrini?"

"He's all right."

"What does he say?"

"Nothing in perticular," responded Peters, "and nothing at all about his little skylark with Shackford."

"He's a cool one!" exclaimed Durgin.

Though the slips of blue pasteboard had been delivered and accepted without comment, it was known in a second through the bar-room that a special meeting had been convened for the next night by the officers of the Marble Workers' Association.

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CHAPTER XIVOn the third morning after Torrini's expulsion from the yard, Mr. Slocum walked into the studio with a printed slip in his hand. A similar slip lay crumpled under a work-bench Richard had tossed it. Mr. Slocum's kindly visage was full of trouble and perplexity as he raised his eyes from the paper, which he had been re-reading on the way up-stairs. "Look at that!" "Yes," remarked Richard, "I have been honored with one of those documents." "What does it mean?" "It means business." The paper in question contained a series of resolutions unanimously adopted at a meeting of
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CHAPTER IXTowards the close of his second year with Mr. Slocum, Richard was assigned a work-room by himself, and relieved of his accountant's duties. His undivided energies were demanded by the carving department, which had proved a lucrative success. The rear of the lot on which Mr. Slocum's house stood was shut off from the marble yard by a high brick wall pierced with a private door for Mr. Slocum's convenience. Over the kitchen in the extension, which reached within a few feet of the wall, was a disused chamber, approachable on the outside by a flight of steps leading to
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