Dark Hollow, by Anna Katherine Green

14

All is Clear

“This is my daughter, Judge Ostrander, Reuther, this is the judge.”

The introduction took place at the outer gates whither the judge had gone to receive them.

Reuther threw aside her veil, and looked up into the face bent courteously towards her. It had no look of Oliver. Somehow she felt glad. She could hardly have restrained herself if he had met her gaze with Oliver’s eyes. They were fine eyes notwithstanding, piercing by nature but just now misty with a feeling that took away all her fear. He was going to like her; she saw it in every trembling line of his countenance, and at the thought a smile rose to her lips which, if fleeting, lent such an ethereal aspect to her beauty that he forgave Oliver then and there for a love which never could be crowned, but which henceforth could no longer be regarded by him as despicable.

With a courteous gesture he invited them in, but stopping to lock one gate before leading them through the other, Mrs. Scoville had time to observe that since her last visit with its accompanying inroad of the populace, the two openings which at this point gave access to the walk between the fences had been closed up with boards so rude and dingy that they must have come from some old lumber pile in attic or cellar.

The judge detected her looking at them.

“I have cut off my nightly promenade,” said he. “With youth in the house, more cheerful habits must prevail. To-morrow I shall have my lawn cut, and if I must walk after sundown I will walk there.”

The two women exchanged glances. Perhaps their gloomy anticipations were not going to be realised.

But once within the house, the judge showed embarrassment. He was conscious of its unfitness for their fastidious taste and yet he had not known how to improve matters. In his best days he had concerned himself very little with household affairs, and for the last few years he had not given a thought to anything outside his own rooms. Bela had done all — and Bela was pre-eminently a cook, not a general house-servant. How would these women regard the disorder and the dust?

“I have few comforts to offer,” said he, opening a door at his right and then hastily closing it again. “This part of the house is, as you see, completely dismantled and not — very clean. But you shall have carte blanche to arrange to your liking one of these rooms for your sitting-room and parlour. There is furniture in the attic and you may buy freely whatever else is necessary. I don’t want to discourage little Reuther. As for your bedrooms —” He stopped, hemmed a little and flushed a vivid red as he pointed up the dingy flight of uncarpeted stairs towards which he had led them. “They are above; but it is with shame I admit that I have not gone above this floor for many years. Consequently, I don’t know how it looks up there or whether you can even find towels and things. Perhaps you will go up first, Mrs. Scoville. I will stay here while you take a look. I really, couldn’t have a strange cleaning-woman here, or any one who would make remarks. Have I counted too much on your good-nature?”

“No; not at all. In fact, you simply arouse all the housekeeping instincts within me. I will be down in a minute. Reuther, I leave you with the judge.”

She ran lightly up. The next instant they heard her sneeze, then they caught the sound of a window rattling up, followed by a streak of light falling slant-wise across the dismal stairs.

The judge drew a breath of relief and led Reuther towards a door at the end of the hall.

“This is the way to the dining-room and kitchen,” he explained.” I have been accustomed to having my meals served in my own room, but after this I shall join you at table. Here,” he continued, leading her up to the iron door, “is the entrance to my den. You may knock here if you want me, but there is a curtain beyond, which no one lifts but myself. You understand, my dear, and will excuse an old man’s eccentricities?”

She smiled, rejoicing only in the caressing voice, and in the yearning, almost fatherly, manner with which he surveyed her.

“I quite understand,” said she; “and so will mother.”

“Reuther,” he now observed with a strange intermixture of gentleness and authority, “there is one thing I wish to say to you at the very start. I may grow to love you — God knows that a little affection would be a welcome change in my life — but I want you to know and know now, that all the love in the world will not change my decision as to the impropriety of a match between you and my son Oliver. That settled, there is no reason why all should not be clear between us.”

“All is clear.”

Faint and far off the words sounded, though she was standing so near he could have laid his hand on her shoulder. Then she gave one sob as though in saying this she heard the last clod fall upon what would never see resurrection again in this life, and, lifting her head, looked him straight in the eye with a decision and a sweetness which bowed his spirit and caused his head in turn to fall upon his breast.

“What a father can do for a child, I will do for you,” he murmured, and led her back to her mother, who was now coming down stairs.

A week, and Deborah Scoville had evolved a home out of chaos. That is, within limits. There was one door on that upper story which she had simply opened and shut; nor had she entered the judge’s rooms, or even offered to do so. The ban which had been laid upon her daughter she felt applied equally to herself; that is for the present. Later, there must be a change. So particular a man as the judge would soon find himself too uncomfortable to endure the lack of those attentions which he had been used to in Bela’s day. He had not even asked for clean sheets, and sometimes she had found herself wondering, with a strange shrinking of her heart, if his bed was ever made, or whether he had not been driven at times to lie down in his clothes.

She had some reason for these doubtful conclusions. In her ramblings through the house she had come upon Bela’s room. It was in a loft over the kitchen and she had been much amazed at its condition. In some respects it looked as decent as she could expect, but in the matter of bed and bedclothes it presented an aspect somewhat startling. The clothes were there, tossed in a heap on the floor, but there was no bed in sight nor anything which could have served as such.

IT HAD BEEN DRAGGED OUT. Evidences of this were everywhere; dragged out, and down the narrow, twisted staircase which was the only medium of communication between the lower floor and this loft. As she noted the marks made by its passage down the steps, the unhappy vision rose before her of the judge, immaculate in attire and unaccustomed of hand, tugging at this bed and alternately pushing and pulling it by main strength down this contracted, many-cornered staircase. A smile, half pitiful, half self-scornful curved her lips as she remembered the rat-tat-tat she had heard on that dismal night when she clung listening to the fence, and wondered now if it had not been the bumping of this cot sliding from step to step.

But no! the repeated stroke of a hammer is unmistakable. He had played the carpenter that night as well as the mover, and with no visible results. Mystery still reigned in the house for all the charm and order she had brought into it; a mystery which deeply interested her, and which she yet hoped to solve, notwithstanding its remoteness from the real problem of her existence.

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Last updated Friday, February 28, 2014 at 13:34