“I CANNOT say anything, I cannot do anything till I have had a few words with Mrs. Scoville. How soon do you think I can speak to her?”
“Not very soon. Her daughter says she is quite worn out. Would it not be better to give her a rest for to-night, judge?”
The judge, now quite recovered, but strangely shrunk and wan, showed no surprise, at this request, odd as it was, on the lips of this honest but somewhat crabbed lawyer, but answered out of the fulness of his own heart and from the depths of his preoccupation:
“My necessity is greater than hers. The change I saw in her is inexplicable. One moment she was all fire and determination, satisfied of Oliver’s innocence and eager to proclaim it. The next — but you were with us. You witnessed her hesitation — felt its force and what its effect was upon the damnable scamp who has our honour — the honour of the Ostranders under his tongue. Something must have produced this change. What? good friend, what?”
“I don’t know any more than you do, judge. But I think you are mistaken about the previous nature of her feelings. I noticed that she was not at peace with herself when she came into the room.”
“What’s that?” The tone was short, and for the first time irritable.
“The change, if there was a change, was not so sudden as you think. She looked troubled, and as I thought, irresolute when she came into the room.”
“You don’t know her; you don’t know what passed between us. She was all right then, but — Go to her, Black. She must have recovered by this time. Ask her to come here for a minute. I won’t detain her. I will wait for her warning knock right here.”
Alanson Black was a harsh man, but he had a soft streak in him — a streak which had been much developed of late. Where he loved, he could be extraordinarily kind, and he loved, had loved for years, in his own way which was not a very demonstrative one, this man whom he was now striving to serve. But a counter affection was making difficulties for him just at this minute. Against all probability, many would have said possibility, Deborah Scoville had roused in this hard nature, a feeling which he was not yet ready to name even to himself, but which nevertheless stood very decidedly in his way when the judge made this demand which meant further distress to her.
But the judge had declared his necessity to be greater than hers, and after Mr. Black had subjected him to one of his most searching looks he decided that this was so, and quietly departed upon his errand. The judge left alone, sat, a brooding figure in his great chair, with no light in heart or mind to combat the shadows of approaching night settling heavier and heavier upon the room and upon himself with every slow passing and intolerable minute.
At last, when the final ray had departed and darkness reigned supreme, there came a low knock on the door. Then a troubled cry:
“Oh, judge, are you here?”
“I am here.”
“Alone and so dark?”
“I am always alone, and it is always dark. Is there any one with you?”
“No, sir. Shall I make a light?”
“No light. Is the door quite shut?”
There came the sound of a hand fumbling over the panels, then a quick snap.
“It is shut,” she said.
“Don’t come any nearer; it is not necessary.” A pause, then the quick question ringing hollow from the darkness, “Why have your doubts returned? Why are you no longer the woman you were when not an hour ago and in this very spot you cried, ‘I will be Oliver’s advocate!’” Then, as no answer came — as minutes passed, and still no answer came, he spoke again and added: “I know that you are ill and exhausted — broken between duty and sympathy; but you must answer me, Mrs. Scoville. My affairs won’t wait. I must know the truth and all the truth before this day is over.”
“You shall.” Her voice sounded hollow too and oh, how weary! “You allowed the document you showed me to remain a little too long before my eyes. That last page — need I say it?”
“Shows — shows changes, Judge Ostrander. Some words have been erased and new ones written in. They are not many, but —”
“I understand. I do not blame you, Deborah.” The words came after a pause and very softly, almost as softly as her own BUT which had sounded its low knell of doom through the darkness. “Too many stumbling-blocks in your way, Deborah, too much to combat. The most trusting heart must give way under such a strain. That page WAS tampered with. I tampered with it myself. I am not expert at forgery. I had better have left it, as he wrote it.” Then after another silence, he added, with a certain vehemence: “We will struggle no longer, either you or I. The boy must come home. Prepare Reuther, or, if you think best, provide a place for her where she will be safe from the storm which bids fair to wreck us here. No, don’t speak; just ask Mr. Black to return, will you?”
“I understand. Mr. Black, Deborah.”
Slowly she moved away and began to grope for the door. As her hand fell on the knob she thought she heard a sob in those impenetrable depths behind her; but when she listened again, all was still; still as if merciful death and not weary life gave its significance to the surrounding gloom.
Shuddering, she turned the knob and paused again for rebuff or command. Neither came; and, realising that having spoken once the judge would not speak again, she slipped softly away, and the door swung to after her.
When Mr. Black re-entered the study, it was to find the room lighted and the judge bent over the table, writing.
“You are going to send for Oliver?” he queried.
The judge hesitated, then motioning Black to sit, said abruptly:
“What is Andrews’ attitude in this matter?”
Andrews was Shelby’s District Attorney.
Black’s answer was like the man.
“I saw him for one minute an hour ago. I think, at present, he is inclined to be both deaf and dumb, but if he’s driven to action, he will act. And, judge, this man Flannagan isn’t going to stop where he is.”
“Black, be merciful to my misery. What does this man know? Have you any idea?”
“No, judge, I haven’t. He’s as tight as a drum — and as noisy. It is possible — just possible that he’s as empty. A few days will tell.”
“I cannot wait for a few days. I hardly feel as if I could wait a few hours. Oliver must come, even if — if the consequences are likely to be fatal. An Ostrander once accused cannot skulk. Oliver has been accused and — Send that!” he quickly cried, pulling forward the telegram he had been writing.
Mr. Black took up the telegram and read:
Come at once. Imperative. No delay and no excuse.
“Mrs. Scoville will supply the address,” continued the poor father. “You will see that it goes, and that its sending is kept secret. The answer, if any is sent, had better be directed to your office. What do you say, Black?”
“I am your friend, right straight through, judge. Your friend.”
“And my boy’s adviser?”
“You wish that?”
“Then, there’s my hand on it, unless he wishes a change when we see him.”
“He will not wish any change.”
“I don’t know. I’m a surly fellow, judge. I have known you all these years, yet I’ve never expressed — never said what I even find it hard to say now, that — that my esteem is something more than esteem; that — that I’ll do anything for you, judge.”
“I— we won’t talk of that, Black. Tell Mrs. Scoville to keep me informed — and bring me any message that may come. The boy, even if he leaves the first thing in the morning, cannot get here before to-morrow night.”
“He will telegraph. I shall hear from him. O God! the hours I must wait; my boy! my boy!”
It was nature’s irrepressible cry. Black pressed his hand and went out with the telegram.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:55