Full Online Books
BOOK CATEGORIES
Authors Authors Short Stories Short Stories Long Stories Long Stories Funny Stories Funny Stories Love Stories Love Stories Stories For Kids Stories For Kids Poems Poems Essays Essays Nonfictions Nonfictions Plays Plays Folktales Folktales Fairy Tales Fairy Tales Fables Fables Learning Kitchen Learning Kitchen
LINKS
Valid XHTML 1.0 Transitional Free Classified Website Without Registration Free Classified Website Daniel Company
Twitter Twitter Add book
donate
Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Stillwater Tragedy - Chapter 27
Famous Authors (View All Authors)
The Stillwater Tragedy - Chapter 27 Post by :jasonroland Category :Long Stories Author :Thomas Bailey Aldrich Date :May 2012 Read :3118

Click below to download : The Stillwater Tragedy - Chapter 27 (Format : PDF)

The Stillwater Tragedy - Chapter 27

CHAPTER XXVII

Mr. Taggett, in spite of the excellent subjection under which he held his nerves, caught his breath at these words, and a transient pallor overspread his face as he followed the pointing of Richard's finger. If William Durgin had testified falsely on that point, if he had swerved a hair's-breadth from the truth in that matter, then there was but one conclusion to be drawn from his perjury. A flash of lightning is not swifter than was Mr. Taggett's thought in grasping the situation. In an instant he saw all his carefully articulated case fall to pieces in his hands. Richard crossed the narrow room, and stood in front of him.

"Mr. Taggett, do you know why William Durgin lied? He lied because it was life or death with him! In a moment of confusion he had committed one of those simple, fatal blunders which men in his circumstances always commit. He had obliterated the spots on his clothes with red paint, when he ought to have used blue!"

"That is a very grave supposition."

"It is not a supposition," cried Richard. "The daylight is not a plainer fact."

"You are assuming too much, Mr. Shackford."

"I am assuming nothing. Durgin has convicted himself; he has fallen into a trap of his own devising. I charge him with the murder of Lemuel Shackford; I charge him with taking the chisel and the matches from my workshop, to which he had free access; and I charge him with replacing those articles in order to divert suspicion upon me. My unfortunate relations with my cousin gave color to this suspicion. The plan was an adroit plan, and has succeeded, it seems."

Mr. Taggett did not reply at once, and then very coldly: "You will pardon me for suggesting it, but it will be necessary to ascertain if this is the cask which Durgin hoped, and also if the head has not been repainted since."

"I understand what your doubt implies. It is your duty to assure yourself of these facts, and nothing can be easier. The person who packed the meat--it was probably a provision dealer named Stubbs--will of course be able to recognize his own work. The other question you can settle with a scratch of your penknife. You see. There has been only one thin coat of paint laid on,--the grain of the wood is nearly distinguishable through it. The head is evidently new; but the cask itself is an old one. It has stood here these ten years."

Mr. Taggett bent a penetrating look on Richard. "Why did you refuse to answer the subpoena, Mr. Shackford?"

"But I haven't refused. I was on my way to Justice Beemis's office when you knocked. Perhaps I am a trifle late," added Richard, catching Mr. Taggett's distrustful glance.

"The summons said two o'clock," remarked Mr. Taggett, pressing the spring of his watch. "It is now after three."

"After three!"

"How could you neglect it,--with evidence of such presumable importance in your hands?"

"It was only a moment ago that I discovered this. I had come here from Mr. Perkins's office. Mr. Perkins had informed me of the horrible charge which was to be laid at my door. The intelligence fell upon me like a thunder-clap. I think it unsettled my reason for a while. I was unable to put two ideas together. At first he didn't believe I had killed my cousin, and presently he seemed to believe it. When I got out in the street the sidewalk lurched under my feet like the deck of a ship; everything swam before me. I don't know how I managed to reach this house, and I don't know how long I had been sitting in a room up-stairs when the recollection of the subpoena occurred to me. I was standing here dazed with despair; I saw that I was somehow caught in the toils, and that it was going to be impossible to prove my innocence. If another man had been in my position, I should have believed him guilty. I stood looking at the cask in the corner there, scarcely conscious of it; then I noticed the blue paint on the head, and then William Durgin's testimony flashed across my mind. Where is he?" cried Richard, turning swiftly. "That man should be arrested!"

"I am afraid he is gone," said Mr. Taggett, biting his lip.

"Do you mean he has fled?"

"If you are correct--he has fled. He failed to answer the summons to-day, and the constable sent to look him up has been unable to find him. Durgin was in the bar-room of the tavern at eight o'clock last night; he has not been seen since."

"He was not in the yard this morning. You have let him slip through your fingers."

"So it appears, for the moment."

"You still doubt me, Mr. Taggett?"

"I don't let persons slip through my fingers."

Richard curbed an impatient rejoinder, and said quietly, "William Durgin had an accomplice."

Mr. Taggett flushed, as if Richard had read his secret thought. Durgin's flight, if he really had fled, had suggested a fresh possibility to Mr. Taggett. What if Durgin were merely the pliant instrument of the cleverer man who was now using him as a shield? This reflection was precisely in Mr. Taggett's line. In absconding Durgin had not only secured his own personal safety, but had exonerated his accomplice. It was a desperate step to take, but it was a skillful one.

"He had an accomplice?" repeated Mr. Taggett, after a moment. "Who was it?"

"Torrini!"

"The man who was hurt the other day?"

"Yes."

"You have grounds for your assertion?"

"He and Durgin were intimate, and have been much together lately. I sat up with Torrini the night before last; he acted and talked very strangely; the man was out of his head part of the time, but now, as I think it over, I am convinced that he had this matter on his mind, and was hinting at it. I believe he would have made disclosures if I had urged him a little. He was evidently in great dread of a visit from some person, and that person was Durgin. Torrini ought to be questioned without delay; he is very low, and may die at any moment. He is lying in a house at the further end of the town. If it is not imperative that I should report myself to Justice Beemis, we had better go there at once."

Mr. Taggett, who had been standing with his head half bowed, lifted it quickly as he asked the question, "Why did you withhold Lemuel Shackford's letter?"

"It was never in my possession, Mr. Taggett," said Richard, starting. "That paper is something I cannot explain at present. I can hardly believe in its existence, though Mr. Perkins declares that he has had it in his hands, and it would be impossible for him to make a mistake in my cousin's writing."

"The letter was found in your lodgings."

"So I was told. I don't understand it."

"That explanation will not satisfy the prosecuting attorney."

"I have only one theory about it," said Richard slowly.

"What is that?"

"I prefer not to state it now. I wish to stop at my boarding-house on the way to Torrini's; it will not be out of our course."

Mr. Taggett gave silent acquiescence to this. Richard opened the scullery door, and the two passed into the court. Neither spoke until they reached Lime Street. Mrs. Spooner herself answered Richard's ring, for he had purposely dispensed with the use of his pass-key.

"I wanted to see you a moment, Mrs. Spooner," said Richard, making no motion to enter the hall. "Thanks, we will not come in. I merely desire to ask you a question. Were you at home all day on that Monday immediately preceding my cousin's death?"

"No," replied Mrs. Spooner wonderingly, with her hand still resting on the knob. "I wasn't at home at all. I spent the day and part of the night with my daughter Maria Ann at South Millville. It was a boy," added Mrs. Spooner, quite irrelevantly, smoothing her ample apron with the disengaged hand.

"Then Janet was at home," said Richard. "Call Janet."

A trim, intelligent-looking Nova Scotia girl was summoned from the basement kitchen.

"Janet," said Richard, "do you remember the day, about three weeks ago, that Mrs. Spooner was absent at South Millville?"

"Yes," replied the girl, without hesitation. "It was the day before"--and then she stopped.

"Exactly; it was the day before my cousin was killed. Now I want you to recollect whether any letter or note or written message of any description was left for me at this house on that day."

Janet reflected. "I think there was, Mr. Richard,--a bit of paper like."

Mr. Taggett riveted his eyes on the girl.

"Who brought the paper?" demanded Richard.

"It was one of the Murphy boys, I think."

"Did you hand it to me?"

"No, Mr. Richard, you had gone out. It was just after breakfast."

"You gave it to me when I came home to dinner, then?"

"No," returned Janet, becoming confused with a dim perception that something had gone wrong and she was committing herself.

"I remember, I didn't come home. I dined at the Slocums'. What did you do with that paper?"

"I put it on the table in your room up-stairs."

Mr. Taggett's eyes gleamed a little at this.

"And that is all you can say about it?" inquired Richard, with a fallen countenance.

Janet reflected. She reflected a long while this time. "No, Mr. Shackford: an hour or so afterwards, when I went up to do the chamber-work, I saw that the wind had blow the paper off of the table. I picked up the note and put it back; but the wind blew it off again."

"What then?"

"Then I shut up the note in one of the big books, meaning to tell you of it, and--and I forgot it! Oh, Mr. Richard, have I done something dreadful?"

"Dreadful!" cried Richard. "Janet, I could hug you!"

"Oh, Mr. Richard," said Janet with a little coquettish movement natural to every feminine thing, bird, flower, or human being, "you've always such a pleasant way with you."

Then there was a moment of dead silence. Mr. Spooner saw that the matter, whatever it was, was settled.

"You needn't wait, Janet!" she said, with a severe, mystified air.

"We are greatly obliged to you, Mr. Spooner, not to mention Janet," said Richard; "and if Mr. Taggett has no questions to ask we will not detain you."

Mrs. Spooner turned her small amiable orbs on Richard's companion. That silent little man Mr. Taggett! "He doesn't look like much," was the landlady's unuttered reflection; and indeed he did not present a spirited appearance. Nevertheless Mrs. Spooner followed him down the street with her curious gaze until he and Richard passed out of sight.

Neither Richard nor Mr. Taggett was disposed to converse as they wended their way to Mitchell's Alley. Richard's ire was slowly kindling at the shameful light in which he had been placed by Mr. Taggett, and Mr. Taggett was striving with only partial success to reconcile himself to the idea of young Shackford's innocence. Young Shackford's innocence was a very awkward thing for Mr. Taggett, for he had irretrievably committed himself at head-quarters. With Richard's latent ire was mingled a feeling of profound gratitude.

"The Lord was on my side," he said presently.

"He was on your side, as you remark; and when the Lord is on a man's side a detective necessarily comes out second best."

"Really, Mr. Taggett," said Richard, smiling, "that is a handsome admission on your part."

"I mean, sir," replied the latter, slightly nettled, "that it sometimes seems as if the Lord himself took charge of a case."

"Certainly you are entitled to the credit of going to the bottom of this one."

"I have skillfully and laboriously damaged my reputation, Mr. Shackford."

Mr. Taggett said this with so heavy an air that Richard felt a stir of sympathy in his bosom.

"I am very sorry," he said good-naturedly.

"No, I beg of you!" exclaimed Mr. Taggett. "Any expression of friendliness from you would finish me! For nearly ten days I have looked upon you as a most cruel and consummate villain."

"I know," said Richard. "I must be quite a disappointment to you, in a small way."

Mr. Taggett laughed in spite of himself. "I hope I don't take a morbid view of it," he said. A few steps further on he relaxed his gait. "We have taken the Hennessey girl into custody. Do you imagine she was concerned?"

"Have you questioned her?"

"Yes; she denies everything, except that she told Durgin you had quarreled with the old gentleman."

"I think Mary Hennessey an honest girl. She's little more than a child. I doubt if she knew anything whatever. Durgin was much too shrewd to trust her, I fancy."

As the speakers struck into the principal street, through the lower and busier end of which they were obliged to pass, Mr. Taggett caused a sensation. The drivers of carts and the pedestrians on both sidewalks stopped and looked at him. The part he had played in Slocum's Yard was now an open secret, and had produced an excitement that was not confined to the clientele of Snelling's bar-room. It was known that William Durgin had disappeared, and tdhat the constables were searching for him. The air was thick with flying projectures, but none of them precisely hit the mark. One rumor there was which seemed almost like a piece of poetical justice,--a whisper to the effect that Rowland Slocum was suspected of being in some way mixed up with the murder. The fact that Lawyer Perkins, with his green bag streaming in the wind, so to speak, had been seen darting into Mr. Slocum's private residence at two o'clock that afternoon was sufficient to give birth to the horrible legend.

"Mitchell's Alley," said Mr. Taggett, thrusting his arm through Richard's, and hurrying on the escape the Stillwater gaze. "You went there directly from the station the night you got home."

"How did you know that?"

"I was told by a fellow-traveler of yours,--and a friend of mine."

"By Jove! Did it ever strike you, Mr. Taggett, that there is such a thing as being too clever?"

"It has occurred to me recently."

"Here is the house."

Two sallow-skinned children, with wide, wistful black eyes, who were sitting on the stone step, shyly crowded themselves together against the door-jamb to make passage-way for Richard and Mr. Taggett. Then the two pairs of eyes veered round inquiringly, and followed the strangers up the broken staircase and saw one of them knock at the door which faced the building.

Richard's hasty tap bringing no response, he lifted the latch without further ceremony and stepped into the chamber, Mr. Taggett a pace or two behind him. The figure of Father O'Meara slowly rising from a kneeling posture at the bedside was the first object that met their eyes; the second was Torrini's placid face, turned a little on the pillow; the third was Brigida sitting at the foot of the bed, motionless, with her arms wrapped in her apron.

"He is dead," said the priest softly, advancing a step towards Richard. "You are too late. He wanted to see you, Mr. Shackford, but you were not to be found."

Richard sent a swift glance over the priest's shoulder. "He wanted to tell me what part he had played in my cousin's murder?" said Richard.

"God forbid! the wretched man had many a sin on his soul, but not that."

"Not that!"

"No; he had no hand in it,--no more than you or I. His fault was that he concealed his knowledge of the deed after it was done. He did not even suspect who committed the crime until two days' afterwards, when William Durgin"--

Richard's eyes lighted up as they encountered Mr. Taggett's. The priest mistook the significance of the glances.


"No," said Father O'Meara, indicating Brigida with a quick motion of his head, "the poor soul does not understand a word. But even if she did, I should have to speak of these matters here and now, while they are fresh in my mind. I am obeying the solemn injunctions of the dead. Two days after the murder William Durgin came to Torrini and confessed the deed, offering to share with him a large sum in gold and notes if he would hide the money temporarily. Torrini agreed to do so. Later Durgin confided to him his plan of turning suspicion upon you, Mr. Shackford; indeed, of directly charging you with the murder, if the worst came to the worst. Torrini agreed to that also, because of some real or fancied injury at your hands. It seems that the implement which Durgin had employed in forcing the scullery door--the implement which he afterwards used so mercilessly--had been stolen from your workshop. The next morning Durgin put the tool back in its place, not knowing what other disposition to make of it, and it was then that the idea of shouldering the crime upon you entered his wicked heart. According to Torrini, Durgin did not intend to harm the old gentleman, but simply to rob him. The unfortunate man was awakened by the noise Durgin made in breaking open the safe, and rushed in to his doom. Having then no fear of interruption, Durgin leisurely ransacked the house. How he came across the will, and destroyed it with the idea that he was putting the estate out of your possession--this and other details I shall give you by and by."

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!

If you like this book please share to your friends :
NEXT BOOKS

The Stillwater Tragedy - Chapter 28 The Stillwater Tragedy - Chapter 28

The Stillwater Tragedy - Chapter 28
CHAPTER XXVIIIOne 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
PREVIOUS BOOKS

The Stillwater Tragedy - Chapter 26 The Stillwater Tragedy - Chapter 26

The Stillwater Tragedy - Chapter 26
CHAPTER XXVIThere was a fire in Richard's temples as he reeled out of Lawyer Perkins's office. It was now twelve o'clock, and the streets were thronged with the motley population disgorged by the various mills and workshops. Richard felt that every eye was upon him; he was conscious of something wild in his aspect that must needs attract the attention of the passers-by. At each step he half expected the leveling of some accusing finger. The pitiless sunshine seemed to single him out and stream upon him like a calcium light. It was intolerable. He must get away from this jostling
NEXT 10 BOOKS | PREVIOUS 10 BOOKS | RANDOM 10 BOOKS
LEAVE A COMMENT