Stories

1234

1. Lamb

It was the last hour of daylight, on the last day of the year.

Lissy pushed the barn door open as her father passed by, a newborn lamb limp in his arms. Behind him the ewe lay exhausted, motionless but for the brief rise and fall of her ribs. Her labor had been difficult, and although the ewe would later stand and drink, Lissy knew that she would not live long. “She’s too old,” Daniel had said, regretfully.

Daniel Janes, like most of the men in their small New England town, took good care of his livestock, including the sheep that produced the wool that Catherine Kincaid and Lissy spun into the yarn that he wove into cloth. Like his father and grandfather before him, Daniel had spent years mastering the complex patterns and rhythmic movements needed to create the cloth that sustained his small family, including Lissy and, before her death, Ella. Although the loss of the ewe would mean less wool to complete his orders in the months ahead, the sheep and lambs meant more to Daniel than just wool. "They’re good animals,” he would say, whenever Lissy laughed at the sheep’s abject stupidity. Daniel seemed to find sweetness in their odd, yellow eyes, while Lissy saw only silliness, and he seemed happiest when he worked among the sheep in the meadows that stretched behind the barn. “I’m a shepherd,” he would say, smiling.

But as he walked toward the house that cold December day, Daniel was not thinking about the meadows, or the happiness he found when working among his flock. The lamb he carried had been born too early, to a ewe that would soon be dead, and with a long winter yet to come. Daniel was thinking about keeping the lamb warm through the night, and about being certain that she survived until spring. Losing the ewe was bad enough. Daniel was determined to not lose her lamb as well.

2. Daniel Janes, twenty years before

People had been making cloth in the Linden River valley for as long as anyone could remember. It was a place where weavers found what they needed, with meadows that stretched wide, a river  that ran clear and strong, and summers, although never long, that were warm and filled with sunlight. Sheep grew robust on the meadow grass, hens scratched for insects at the edges of the paths and laid eggs in the tall weeds near the barns, and flax ripened abundantly, crowning the fields above the river with small, intensely blue flowers. English weavers settled first, and then others, finding the place much like the homes they had left behind. In the valley towns, the old names tumbled over one other, Howe and Howells and Hughes, Janes, James and Jones, Murray and Muir, names that were English or Welsh or Scotch-Irish or sometimes all of those at once. In the last decades of the 18th century, the families of Randall, Massachusetts, and the other river towns were more alike than different, even after the mills began to appear, first the Cabot and Hennessey felting mills at Linden Falls, then Reynolds Blaine’s spinning mill in Alton, and finally the Butterworth Woolens Factory in Millerford, where the steady drumming of four rows of water-powered crank looms could be heard hundreds of feet away.

The families of the valley were weaving families, including skilled master weavers like Daniel Janes, trained through long apprenticeships, and among them lived the families of the spinners, dyers and loom makers who fashioned the yarns and tools they needed. Yet most local families were farming families as well. In those quiet, out-of-the-way places, a day’s ride from the bustle of the coastal cities, people did more than one thing to make their way; they farmed during the warm months, and turned to weaving or blacksmithing or carpentry at other times, saving what they earned, preserving what they grew, and bartering for whatever else they needed. Through these long-held patterns they followed the seasons, summer after spring, spring after winter, a cycle of bright, long days closing in on the dark of winter, and back again.

Boston had been Daniel Janes' home for the eighteen years since he left England, and he regretted nothing in his decision to live there. But he had grown weary of the city's dirt and noise, and the increasing unrest of the 1760’s, with protests becoming more common, the streets teeming with marching British soldiers, and the soldiers’ efforts to quell the demonstrations seemingly more violent and unpredictable with each new encounter.

Daniel had done well in Boston. His finest cloth, tightly woven silk dyed in rich crimson, blue, and brown, shot through with gold thread, was unlike the cloth made by other weavers. Boston’s wealthy women felt happy when they wore garments made from Daniel’s silk, and they flattered one another with compliments. Indeed, women were beautiful when wearing Daniel’s cloth, and in the good years customers were easy to come by, and Daniel was paid generously for his work. But Boston's appeal waned as he considered the possibility of war. What’s more, Daniel missed the green hills of England’s Dorset, and yearned to live again in a place where the only accompaniment to the sound of his loom were the songs of birds and crickets, or rustling leaves, or snow falling with a hush against the windowpane. Word came that old Sam Carlyle of Randall had died, leaving a house and weaving shed for lease or perhaps purchase, if a good price could be agreed upon. Daniel knew that there would be a scant market in the Linden River towns for the kind of cloth that had supported him in Boston. Nevertheless, he would be content as a weaver in a country town, producing the everyday woolens and linens of rural people, and so he cleared his accounts, transferred the indentures of his journeymen to the man who took over his shop, and departed for the countryside.

Daniel’s first years in Randall were not easy years. A few of Sam Carlyle’s old customers brought orders to him, but other townspeople took months and even years to trust and accept the new weaver. Much of his savings had gone to the purchase of the house and land, and to replace the shop’s aged looms. After a year, with his money nearly gone, Daniel began to seek work from the valley’s other weavers. Only one – Abe Cabot, who operated a small handloom shop at Linden Falls, where he wove alongside a journeyman weaver and a handful of apprentices – had responded. The bulk of Cabot’s work was ordinary cotton sheeting, woven hundreds of yards at a time on contract with several Boston merchants.

“From time to time, someone will ask for the fancy things,” he said to Daniel. “I’d be happy to weave it myself, but I don’t have time.” He gestured to the undyed sheeting, creamy white in color, stacked in long rows in his shop, ready for shipment to Boston. “I’d rather weave anything than this,” he said, “But it gives me enough money to keep going.”

He turned to Daniel. “I have an order for twelve yards of damask linen, half dyed with madder, the other half with indigo, forty two inches wide. I’ve drawn the design already. I need the damask in two weeks. Can you do it?”

Afterward, Cabot gave more work to Daniel, sometimes fancy goods, but other times not. When Abe’s orders for sheeting exceeded what he could produce in his own shop, Daniel would find himself weaving dozens of yards of nondescript cotton on Cabot’s behalf. He enjoyed the simplicity of the task. Every few weeks, he would load the heavy bolts of cloth into his wagon, and drive along the dirt lanes that led to Cabot’s shop. Sometimes, Daniel stayed for a meal. Cabot and his wife, Mattie, lived in a large, ramshackle house, with two young daughters and Cabot’s apprentices, an assortment of boys of varied ages and abilities. At a table that also included Mr. Haines, the journeyman, the men discussed that day’s work or the news of the town while the boys fidgeted and Mattie and the girls passed plates of food. Later, Daniel and Abe would remain after the others returned to the shop. The men would laugh or grumble over routine pleasures and frustrations, and Mattie, if her work was done, would often join them. She was a slight, kindly woman, and Daniel was a source of worry for her.

"I think he spends too much time alone," she said to Abe one day. "Too much solitude is not good for a person."

"Oh, Daniel is fine," Abe said complacently. "He's busy and doesn't have time for idle talk or foolishness."

"Foolishness? All by himself in Sam Carlyle's drafty old house, with only one stove for heat?" She shook her head. "That's foolishness if you ask me. And I think he's not getting enough to eat. How could he? What, with only that tiny garden he planted, and whatever milk he can get from those two skinny goats, it's a wonder he hasn’t starved. He doesn't even have a cow."

"He has Mrs. Simpson to cook for him. She can certainly cook, by the looks of her. The last time I saw her, she was as big as a barn.”

Mattie chuckled. “Abe, really, Mrs. Simpson is a nice person. You mind your words.”

She paused. "Seriously, does Daniel seem happy to you? You rely on him. What if he decided to move elsewhere?"

"He won't leave, Mattie," Abe replied. "He can't afford to go anywhere with the money he's already put into his shop and land. He'd never get it back if he sold the place."

Mattie looked at him evenly for a moment.

"I think we should put a little more effort into Daniel's welfare," she said. "Something other than a meal every now and then." She drummed her fingers slowly on the tabletop, her eyes narrowing in thought. "Something to ease his loneliness and …"  A faint smile played on her lips.

"Now Mattie," Abe warned. "I don’t want to meddle."

"Don't worry," Mattie said. “I won't expect you to lift a finger on his behalf." She looked out the window absently. "Just let me just think on this for a while."

A few months later, Daniel harnessed his mare and drove to Linden Falls to deliver cloth to Cabot. The shop's looms were in operation as he entered, and the space was filled with the steady thump of beaters, the clatter of harnesses, and the laughter of the younger boys. Apart from winding an occasional bobbin or sweeping the floor, the two youngest apprentices, Terrence and Ord, seemed to spend most of their time making mischief, and a considerable hubbub was heard wherever they went. “Stop that noise,” Mr. Haines would growl from time to time, and the youngsters would grow quiet for a while afterward. Daniel often marveled at Haines’s patience, although once he saw the man snatch a paper cone in a fit of temper and rap Ord sharply across the head. The blow was harmless, but the loud crack echoed through the room, and Ord, usually high spirited by nature, appeared crestfallen. George, Buddy, and Jim, the older apprentices, were considerably more accomplished, and spent most of their time working alongside Cabot and Haines. They prepared the looms for the men to weave on, and sometimes, when the shop was particularly busy, Jim and Buddy would be weaving as well. Mattie smiled when Daniel passed the desk where she tended to the shop’s accounts. As he crossed the room, he noticed a young woman sorting yarn alongside Cabot’s daughters, and was suddenly aware of the soft shine of her hair and the shapeliness of her figure, despite the heavy sweater she wore over her dress and apron. Embarrassed, he looked away.

"I was wondering when we'd see you again," Cabot said, pausing at his loom.

"I've been busy."

"Yes, yes, I know, always busy," Cabot said, with a knowing glance in Mattie's direction. “Listen, Daniel, let's talk," he said, stepping from the loom and gesturing to the door. "Somewhere where we can have a moment's peace."

Once outside, the two men leaned against the wall of the shop.

“How’ve you been, Daniel?”

“Fine,” he replied.

Cabot nodded.

“Good, good,” he said.

He looked away for a moment, before continuing, "Getting enough to eat? Plenty of greens and carrots? Potatoes? Some milk and bread? Sleeping well?”

Daniel smiled. “I’m fine, Abe, truly I am.”

“How’s your digestion? And your bowels?”

Daniel burst out laughing. “I’ll be certain to tell you when my bowels trouble me. Now, no more questions.”

"Mattie worries about these things," Cabot shrugged, pulling a wooden bench closer and sitting down. ( … )

3. In the Shop

On a day in late April, Lissy sat on a bench in her father’s shop, with a book open in her lap. Sunlight slanted through windows that lined the south wall, and the windows were open to a  fresh breeze. The morning’s fire hadn’t been rekindled, but the air had grown cool as the afternoon sun dropped toward the distant hills. Lissy stood and closed the windows, added some shavings and a few small logs to the stove, and returned to her book. After a moment the fire flared, and then blazed, and the chill began to leave the room.

Daniel’s shop occupied the shed that was built against the rear of the house. All of the tools necessary to conduct a weaving trade were found here - looms, quantities of linen, silk, and wool yarns, and a large assortment of oddly-named tools, including sley hooks, bobbins, reeds, beams, harnesses, lease sticks, and other implements. These items were stored on shelves and in baskets that lined the walls. Suspended from hooks were a variety of dried flowers, grasses, and other products of the garden and the woodlands that bordered the property. On warm days, the dried plants filled the room with a spicy, dusty fragrance. Occasionally, Daniel would gather a selection of these materials and grind them together, before mixing them with alum, soda, wood ash, and other substances to make the dyes that infused color deeply into his cloth. The stove and the bench where Lissy sat were the only other objects in the room. The shop's unpainted walls had aged to a deep brown over the years, and the floorboards were scarred with use but clean from regular sweeping and scrubbing. Like all good weaving shops, Daniel’s workplace was bright and well maintained, with every trace of dirt removed to avoid soiling the newly woven cloth.

The looms dominated the shop. Broad and substantial, built from wooden beams almost as large as those that supported the house, the looms looked as if they had hadn’t been moved for decades. Indeed, weavers such as Daniel Janes wove their cloth on looms that were no different from the looms that had been used for centuries, providing a reason to imagine that Daniel’s looms had been in this place forever. As a young girl, Lissy loved exploring these wooden giants while Daniel was elsewhere, crawling underneath, climbing across the beams, standing on the treadles in an attempt to raise the heavy harnesses, always careful not to touch the precious cloth that made up her father’s livelihood. Other times, she would slip into the room quietly as Daniel was weaving, creep stealthily to his side before rising suddenly, laughing delightedly when he pretended to be startled. As she grew older, Daniel found tasks for Lissy in the shop, and she spent many hours there, sometimes with Daniel alone, other times with Paul Barnett, his apprentice in those years, as well.

But today, the looms were not being used. Instead, it was a day for the regular cleaning and repairing that was needed to keep the looms in good working order. As he worked, Daniel would pause from time to time to stretch his back and shoulders, growing stiff after long minutes of effort, sometimes turning to the window to look across the farm lot and fields. Perhaps this early warmth will settle in, and it will finally be spring, he thought. That would certainly please the horses! In his mind’s eye, Daniel saw the two mares sneeze in the early sunlight, shake their heads vigorously as if to clear the winter's cobwebs, then snort and lean heavily into their harnesses as he set them up to pull that first long furrow, running west to east across the ridge of largest of the fields, with the last of the winter grass folding under as the soil turned over, moist in the light and rich and dark in color. The harnesses and traces were repaired and oiled, and the blades of the plow hammered smooth and filed to a sharp edge. Renewed for the spring’s planting, these tools were stored in the barn, ready to use. Perhaps we could begin tomorrow, Daniel thought hopefully.

He turned to observe the boy he had sent to gather the sheep that were scattered among the pastures beyond the barn. The boy was Jackie, a new apprentice. Twelve years old, and one of eleven children raised on a thin hillside farm near Alton, Jackie was an earnest youth, and sturdily built, but awkward and hesitant in manner. As Daniel watched, Jackie and the sheep made slow progress toward the barn, with the boy's indecisiveness periodically allowing wayward sheep to scatter in all directions. But seeing no imminent danger to Jackie or the sheep, and preferring to let the boy learn his own way, Daniel returned to his work without interfering.

“Are you pleased with Jackie?”  Lissy asked.

“Yes,” he said, “But he’s as green as the grass.”

“I’m afraid he’s more trouble than help to you, Papa.”

Daniel laughed. “Oh, that’s true for now. But he’ll learn. Jackie’s young.”

He picked up a ratchet from the brake of the loom, disassembled on the bench where he sat, and began scraping the rust from its blunt iron teeth.

“Papa?”

“Hmm?”

“Mr. Cabot laid off eight workers last week, and three more children left the school today,” she said.

Lissy spent many of her mornings teaching the youngest children in the village school, working alongside Mrs. Grant, the teacher of the older children. The Cabot mill was small and antiquated when compared to the neighboring Hennessey plant, and its prospects grew worse when the Butterworth Woolens Factory was established. As men once employed by Cabot left for work elsewhere, taking their families with them, today’s departures brought to thirteen the number of children who had withdrawn from the school since the previous autumn. If more children left, the remaining students would be combined into a single class. Worse, the town fathers might opt to close the school altogether.

“I’m sorry to hear that, Lissy.”

Holding the ratchet in his right hand, Daniel wiped oil across its metal surfaces, and then began threading the bolt that would fasten the ratchet into place on the loom. While saddened at the thought that Abe Cabot's mill was failing, he had known that the mill's demise was inevitable. He waited, sensing that his daughter had more to say.

“And Jennie’s family is leaving for Millerford. In three weeks.”

Daniel placed the brake on the bench, and turned to Lissy, concern in his eyes.

“Ah, Lissy, that is bad news. I’m sorry.”

Jennie had been Lissy’s best friend since the day they met, thirteen years before. The girls had been inseparable for much of their lives, rarely apart, and never so happy as when together. In a town as small as Randall, Lissy had few options for friends her own age or, indeed, of any age. It was painful to think of Lissy without Jennie nearby.

“It’s been a difficult year for Jennie’s family,” Daniel said, after a moment.

“Yes,” Lissy said, “But it’s a relief for them now that Mr. Moore has been hired as a spooler at the Butterworth mill.”

Dry spells, insect plagues, and accidents afflict all farming families from time to time. But for the Moores, a barn fire the previous year, followed by a well that failed, proved to be too much of a burden. This is not to say that Mr. Moore expected the work in the mills to be easy. A mill hand’s life was often dirty, noisy, and dangerous, with long hours according to a strict schedule that had none of the natural ebb and flow of farm life. But Clarkson Moore was a steady and uncomplaining man, and not one to buckle under the regimen of a mill job, even in a large operation such as Butterworth Woolens. As much as Daniel regretted the Moores’s impending departure, he nevertheless felt that the steady employment Jennie’s father had found in Millerford would be the best thing for the Moore family.

Daniel’s thoughts returned to Lissy. At nineteen, she resembled her mother more than ever, with Ella’s dark hair and bright eyes, and with a smile that spread quickly, lighting her face with happiness. However, there was no smile to brighten her face now. She looked small and lonely as she sat on the bench near the wall, her eyes on her book, turning the pages slowly. Daniel regarded her sadly, thinking of Ella, dead these three years. How Ella loved this time of year, these early days of spring, the windows open for the first time, and the air soft. Daniel felt himself missing her again, as if she had only recently been taken away. It was a recurring emotion, and he looked away, resigning himself again to an ache that he knew would never fade away entirely.

While understandable given the state of his finances, Abraham Cabot’s decision to lay off more of his workers troubled Daniel. Times were hard for families in Randall and the other towns in the valley. Families like the Moores, after struggling with the uncertainty of farming as a livelihood, felt hopeful at the chance to earn a steady paycheck in the mills, and accepted the loss of a lifestyle that had sustained their families for generations. But the lost jobs of the past week were another reminder of the changes that were coming.

“I know you’ll miss Jennie, and I’m sorry to see you go through such a painful time. But your separation from Jennie won’t be forever,” he said, reasonably.

She looked at him doubtfully.

“Millerford is not so far away,” he said. “There will be times when you and Jennie will see one another.”

He paused, biding his time. At such moments as these, the person who could best ease Lissy’s sorrow was Catherine Kincaid. Catherine had raised three sons and four daughters on the neighboring farm, and knew well the ways of a young woman’s mind. She had stepped into the void left at Ella’s death, offering Lissy her kindness, always patient, and yet firm and honest when advice or guidance was needed. In the moments after Ella’s burial, as the townspeople turned from the grave, Daniel watched as Catherine opened her arms, gathering Lissy to her, murmuring softly all the while, offering comfort naturally and effortlessly, much as Ella might have done.

Soon after the funeral, Catherine began arriving early each morning, taking over without fuss the spinning that had been done by Ella before her sickness began, and continuing Lissy’s education in the spinner’s art. Lissy, an acceptable spinner before, grew capable and confident under Catherine’s careful tutelage. “That girl’s a good spinner,” Catherine said to Daniel, admiringly. “She can spin as fine a thread as anyone I’ve seen. Your daughter’s going to be the best spinner in this valley, mark my words.” With Catherine’s help, Daniel’s supply of yarn continued to grow through the long months when he seemed blinded by grief, at his loom for untold hours each day, unceasing in his effort to forget what seemed to be lost forever.

“You can’t overdo this sadness, Daniel,” Catherine had said one day, looking at him evenly.

She had entered the shop unannounced, and stood next to the loom. He paused, surprised, and set the shuttle aside before looking down to his hands.

“That girl needs you,” Catherine said, “And here you are, never stopping for a minute to catch your breath, and barely looking at her.”

He stared silently.

“Daniel, if you don’t know what to say to her, don’t say anything. Just include her in the things you do each day. She’s not expecting more from you but that.”

He lifted his face to her, stricken.

“This is not so difficult,” she said, and a nearly imperceptible twinkle came to her eye. “You’ll see.”

One evening a few weeks later, overwhelmed by work and sorrow, Daniel had fallen into bed exhausted and slept as if he would never wake. The next morning, passing through the barn later than usual, he noticed that his unfinished chores from the previous day had been completed – the boards he had cut had been loaded into the rack, the last of the new fence rails was split and piled near the door, and one of the barn's rotted window frames had been replaced with fresh wood, neatly squared and trimmed.

Paul Barnett looked up from watering the horses.

“Mr. Kincaid was here,” he said.

The Kincaids’ kindness continued. Whenever Daniel attempted to express his gratitude, the response was invariably little more than a slight wave of the hand, or a shrug.

“This is how such things are done, Daniel,” Wendell Kincaid said one afternoon. “You’d do the same for us."

Slowly, the veil that had seemed to be draped over Daniel’s eyes began to lift. It was as if the constancy of the Kincaids had, in some unexplainable way, reminded him that all of life’s happiness had not vanished with Ella, and that, with patience, things would be right again – not the same as before, perhaps, but right again.

As the afternoon turned toward evening, Daniel lit the lanterns, and began to gather and store the tools that he had used over the course of the day. Lissy set her book aside, and rose to leave.

Daniel dropped a hammer into a box near the door, and paused.

“Possibly a visit to Boston is in order,” he said, “For both you and Jennie, if her family can spare her.”

“Oh, Papa!” she said, her eyes brightening.

“I have some financial matters with Walt Landes that require my attention, and I would enjoy your company. This seems like a good time; the roads are likely to remain clear, and it is too early yet to begin the plowing. Perhaps …”

4. Cabot’s Mill

The mill had been his life for the past seventeen years.

Abraham Cabot stood on the first floor of the felting mill he built in 1785, hands in pockets, looking across the room to the windows on the far side.

Seventeen years.

He walked past the empty scouring tubs, and then the tuck mills, also empty, with the fulling hammers locked and immobile. I ran this place for seventeen years, and this is what I’ve come to.

He looked out the bank of windows to the Hennessey plant, less than a hundred yards away.

Once, Will Hennessey had been his business partner, after buying a stake in Cabot’s mill. But sometimes things don’t work out as planned, and ordinary disagreements lead to arguments and anger, and after several years Hennessey sold his shares back to Cabot and walked out.

Hennessey sold those shares to me for a hell of a lot less than he’d paid for them, Cabot thought. That’s for sure, and it served him right.

But give the man credit. Will Hennessey does all right. Hennessey is busy enough, and he keeps his men working. You can’t begrudge a man for that. And he keeps his shop up to date, that's certain. I give him credit.

Still, it shows a lot of gall, coming to me a couple of years back, after things had started to go bad here. It takes gall for that man to wait until things are bad, and then to offer to buy the place for next to nothing, and then to act surprised when I say no. That’s gall.

Why, coming to me at a time like that, I wouldn’t have – Why, I wouldn’t have sold that man a stack of warm turds, and that’s certain! Abe paused, and chuckled. His amusement grew as he considered the absurdity of the picture in his mind, and the chuckle gradually became a deep, full laugh, until he had to bend forward, hands on his knees, with tears coming to his eyes.

Oh, boy, he said, still laughing as he finally straightened up, a stack of warm turds! That’s good. He looked out the windows again, sobering. Oh, boy, he thought, wincing. I feel every one of those seventeen years in this old back of mine.

He turned away from the windows, his smile fading, then crossed the room, and began to climb the steps to the weaving shop on the second floor.

This place is sturdy. He paused at a landing. On a day of high wind, or storm, there’s not a creak to be heard. Make it strong, I told Levi Abernathy, and he did. I want this foundation to be here at doomsday, I said to Levi, and although I don’t know much about doomsday, this foundation isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Levi built a stone foundation for this mill that’s a work of art, I’m sure of it.

He stood at the head of the weaving shop, looking at the row of looms ranging the length of the space. The fourteen looms were all hand looms, fashioned from oak, well-worn and heavily used, of the finest quality. Weavers on hand looms could make a better grade of fabric, no doubt about that. But the looms were slow. They’re too damn slow, Hennessey had yelled at him, exasperated by Abe's stubbornness. You’re going to be buried under debt, he shouted, and you are not going to bury me with you.

Abe Cabot looked at the looms, lined silently down the room. He had fourteen weavers working here once, including journeymen, and warp winders and draw-in hands working alongside them. And all the fulling shop hands downstairs. Now, they’re gone.

There was no need to climb to the third floor woodshop. It was just another long, narrow  room, empty now but for a few piles of wood stacked along the walls. Like the mill’s other floors, the woodshop included rows of windows, looking to the pond and the Hennessey mill on one side, and to the village's small cluster of houses on the other. The woodshop had once been alive with the sound of planes sliding smoothly over wood, the whir of the lathes, and the repeating, whistling cadences of the saws, but not now.

Once back downstairs, Cabot stood again where he had started, gazing over the fulling room. Hennessey might have been right all along. I wanted to keep things the way they had always been, but in the end, I couldn’t even keep my own workers.

He stepped outside, pulling the door closed behind him, and dropped the heavy ring of keys into his pocket. He glanced up, his eye following the cornice as it ran to the far corner above the pond. It was as straight and strong as the day it was built.

*    *    *

Later, Abe returned. The outer door was unlocked. Surprised, he entered and crossed to the office on the far side. Paul Barnett sat at the desk near the window, examining a set of specifications from Abe’s final contract with the Griggins brothers.

“Hello, Paul,” Cabot said.

Paul rose from his chair and turned toward the man.

Without waiting for him to speak, Cabot said, “Paul, I’m sorry that I wasn’t able to talk with you last week. I was eager to leave for Salem, but … Well, I was too late.”

“I understand, Mr. Cabot.”

Cabot considered him for a moment, and then nodded. “There's something I want to discuss with you.”  He settled slowly into his chair, removed an envelope from the drawer, and pushed it across the desk to Paul. (...)