Stops of Various Quills/Materials of a Story

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Materials of a Story by William Dean Howells
illustrations by Howard Pyle

Howells, Stops of Various Quills, 1895 071 large a.jpg



MATERIALS OF A STORY

 

I MET a friend of mine the other day 
Upon the platform of a West End car;
We shook hands, and my friend began to say
Quickly, as if he were not going far,
"Last summer something rather in your way
Came to my knowledge. I was asked to see
A young man who had come to talk with me
Because I was a clergyman; and he
Told me at once that he had served his time
In the state-prison for a heinous crime,
And was just out. He had no friends, or none
To speak of; and he seemed far gone




Howells, Stops of Various Quills, 1895 073 large a.jpg



With a bad cough. He said he had not done
The thing. They all say that. You cannot tell
He might not have been guilty of it. Well,
What he now wanted was some place to stay,
And work that he could do. I managed it
With no great trouble. And then, there began
The strangest thing I ever knew. The man,
Who showed no other signs of a weak wit,
Was hardly settled in his place a week
When he came round to see me, and to speak
About his lodging. What the matter was
He could not say, or would not tell the cause,
But he must leave that place; he could not bear
To stay. I found another room, but there
After another week he could not stay.
Again I placed him, and he came to say
At the week's end that he must go away.
So it went on, week after week, and then
At last I made him tell me. It appears
That his imprisonment of fifteen years
Had worn so deep into the wretch's brain
That any place he happened to remain
Longer than one day in began to seem
His prison and all over again to him;
And when the thing had got into this shape,
He was quite frantic till he could escape.
Curious, was not it? And tragical."
"Tragical? I believe you! Was that all?

What has become of him?" "Oh, he is dead.
I told some people of him, and we made
A decent funeral for him. At the end
It came out that his mother was alive—
An outcast—and she asked our leave to attend
The ceremony, and then asked us to give
The silver coffin plate, carved with his name,
And the flowers, to her." "That was touching. She
Had some good left in her infamy."
"Why, I don't know! I think she sold the things,
Together with a neck-pin and some rings
That he had left, and drank....But as to blame....
Good-morning to you!" and my friend stepped down
At the street crossing. I went on up town.




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