Three hours later, an agitated confab took place at the gate, or rather between the two front gates. Mr. Black had rung for admittance, and Mrs. Scoville had answered the call. In the constrained interview which followed, these words were said:
“One moment, Mrs. Scoville. How can I tell the judge! Young Ostrander is gone — flew the city, and I can get no clew to his whereabouts. Some warning of what is happening here may have reached him, or he may be simply following impulses consequent upon his personal disappointments; but the fact is just this — he asked for two weeks’ leave to go West upon business — and he’s been gone three. Meanwhile, no word has come, nor can his best friends tell the place of his destination. I have been burning the telegraph wires ever since the first despatch, and this is the result.”
“Poor Judge Ostrander!” Then, in lower and still more pathetic tones, “Poor Reuther!”
“Where is Reuther?”
“At Miss Weeks’. I had to command her to leave me alone with the judge. It’s the first time I ever spoke unkindly to her.”
“Shall I tell the judge the result of his telegram, or will you?”
“Have you the messages with you?”
He bundled them into her hand.
“I will hand them in to him. We can do nothing less and nothing more. Then if he wants you, I will telephone.”
She felt his hand laid softly on her shoulder.
“Yes, Mr. Black.”
“There is some one else in this matter to consider besides Judge Ostrander.”
“Reuther? Oh, don’t I know it! She’s not out of my mind a moment.”
“Reuther is young, and has a gallant soul. I mean you, Mrs. Scoville, you! You are not to succumb to this trial. You have a future — a bright future — or should have. Do not endanger it by giving up all your strength now. It’s precious, that strength, or would be —”
He broke off; she began to move away. Overhead in the narrow space of sky visible to them from where they stood, the stars burned brightly. Some instinct made them look up; as they did so, their hands met. Then a gruff sound broke the silence. It was Alanson Black’s voice uttering a grim farewell.
“He must be found! Oliver must be found!” How the words rung in her ears. She had handed in the messages to the waiting father; she had uttered a word or two of explanation, and then, at his request, had left him. But his last cry followed her: “He must be found!”
When she told it to Mr. Black the next morning, he looked serious.
“Pride or hope?” he asked.
“Desperation,” she responded, with a guilty look about her. “Possibly, some hope is in it, too. Perhaps, he thinks that any charge of this nature must fall before Oliver’s manly appearance. Whatever he thinks, there is but one thing to do: find Oliver.”
“Mrs. Scoville, the police have started upon that attempt. I got the tip this morning.”
“We must forestall them. To satisfy the judge, Oliver must come of his own accord to face these charges.”
“It’s a brave stock. If Oliver gets his father’s telegram he will come.”
“But how are we to reach him! We are absolutely in the dark.”
“If I could go to Detroit, I might strike some clew; but I cannot leave the judge. Mr. Black, he told me this morning when I carried in his breakfast that he should see no one and go nowhere till I brought him word that Oliver was in the house. The hermit life has begun again. What shall we do? Advise me in this emergency, for I feel as helpless as a child — as a lost child.”
They were standing far apart in the little front parlour, and he gave no evidence of wishing to lessen the space between them, but he gave her a look as she said this, which, as she thought it over afterwards, held in its kindly flame something which had never shone upon her before, whether as maid, wife or widow. But, while she noticed it, she did not dwell upon it now, only upon the words which followed it.
“You say you cannot go to Detroit. Shall I go?”
“Court is adjourned. I know of nothing more important than Judge Ostrander’s peace of mind —— unless it is yours. I will go if you say so.”
“Will it avail? Let me think. I knew him well, and yet not well enough to know where he would be most likely to go under impulse.”
“There is some one who knows him better than you do.”
“Reuther? Oh, she mustn’t be told —”
“Yes, she must. She’s our one adviser. Go for her — or send me.”
“It won’t be necessary. There’s her ring at the gate. But oh, Mr. Black, think again before you trouble this fragile child of mine with doubts and questions which make her mother tremble.”
“Has she shown the greater weakness yet?”
“No, but —”
“She has sources of strength which you lack. She believes absolutely in Oliver’s integrity. It will carry her through.”
“Please let her in, Mr. Black. I will wait here while you tell her.”
Mr. Black hurried from the room. When his form became visible on the walk without, Deborah watched him from where she stood far back in the room. Why? Was this swelling of her impetuous heart in the midst of such suspense an instinct of thankfulness? A staff had been put in her hand, rough to the touch, but firm under pressure, and she needed such a staff. Yes, it was thankfulness.
But she forgot gratitude and every lesser emotion in watching Reuther’s expression as the two came up the path. The child was radiant, and the mother, thus prepared, was not surprised when the young girl, running into her arms, burst out with the glad cry:
“Oliver is no longer in Detroit, but he’s wanted here, and Mr. Black and I are going to find him. I think I know where to look. Get me ready, mother dear; we are going to-night.”
“You are going to-night?” This was said after the first moment of ebullition had past. “Where, Reuther? You have not been corresponding with Oliver. How should you know where to look for him?”
Then Reuther told her story.
“Mr. Ostrander and I were talking very seriously one day. It was before we became definitely engaged, and he seemed to feel very dispirited and uncertain of the future. There was a treatise he wanted to write, and for this he could get no opportunity in Detroit. ‘I need time,’ he said, ‘and complete seclusion.’ And then he made this remark: ‘If ever life becomes too much for me, I shall go to one of two places and give myself up to this task.’ ‘And what are the places?’ I asked. ‘One is Washington,’ he answered, ‘where I can have the run of a great library and the influence of the most inspiring surroundings in the world; the other is a little lodge in a mountain top above Lake Placid — Tempest Lodge, they call it; perhaps, in contrast to the peacefulness it dominates.’ And he described this last place with so much enthusiasm and weighed so carefully the advantages of the one spot against the other for the absorbing piece of work that he contemplated, that I am sure that if we do not find him in Washington, we certainly shall in the Adirondacks.”
“Let us hope that it will be in Washington,” replied the lawyer, with a keen remembrance of the rigours of an Adirondack fall — rigours of which Reuther in her enthusiasm, if not in her ignorance, appeared to take little count. “And now,” he went on, “this is how I hope to proceed. We will go first to Washington, and, if unsuccessful there, to Tempest Lodge. We will take Miss Weeks with us, for I am sure that I could not, without some such assistance, do justice to this young lady’s comfort. If you have a picture of Mr. Ostrander as he looks now, I hope you will take it, Miss Scoville. With that and the clew to his intentions, which you have given me, I have no doubt that we shall find him within the week.”
“But,” objected Deborah, “if you know where to look for him, why take the child? Why go yourself? Why not telegraph to these places?”
His answer was a look, quick, sharp and enigmatical enough to require explanation. He could not give it to her then, but later, when Reuther had left them, he said:
“Men who fly their engagements and secrete themselves, with or without a pretext, are not so easily reached. We shall have to surprise Oliver Ostrander, in order to place his father’s message in his hands.”
“You may be right. But Reuther? Can she stand the excitement — the physical strain?”
“You have the harder task of the two, Mrs. Scoville. Leave the little one to me. She shall not suffer.”
Deborah’s response was eloquent. It was only a look, but it made his harsh features glow and his hard eye soften. Alanson Black had waited long, but his day of romance had come — and possibly hers also.
But his thoughts, if not his hopes, received a check when, with every plan made and Miss Weeks, as well as Reuther, in trembling anticipation of the journey, he encountered the triumphant figure of Flannagan coming out of Police Headquarters.
His jaunty air, his complaisant nod, admitted of but one explanation. He had told his story to the chief authorities and been listened to. Proof that he had something of actual moment to tell them; something which the District Attorney’s office might feel bound to take up.
Alanson Black felt the shock of this discovery, but was glad of the warning it gave him. Plans which had seemed both simple and natural before, he now saw must be altered to suit the emergency. He could no longer hope to leave town with his little party without attracting unwelcome attention. They might even be followed. For whatever Flannagan may have told the police, there was one thing he had been unable to impart, and that was where to look for Oliver. Only Reuther held that clew, and if they once suspected this fact, she would certainly become the victim of their closest surveillance. Little Reuther, therefore, must not accompany him on his quest, but hold herself quite apart from it; or, better still, be made to act as a diversion to draw off the scent from the chief actor, which was himself. The idea was good, and one to be immediately carried out.
Continuing on to his office, he called up Miss Weeks.
“Are you there?” he asked.
Yes, she was there.
Yes, Reuther was home packing.
“No one listening on the line?”
She was sure not.
“Very well. Listen closely and act quickly. You are not to go to — I will not mention the name; and you are not to wait for me. You are to start at the hour named, but you will buy tickets for Atlantic City, where you must get what accommodations you can. Our little friend needs to be taken out of town — not on business you understand, but to escape the unpleasantness here and to get such change as will distract her mind. Her mother cannot leave her duties, so you have undertaken to accompany the child. The rest leave to me. Have you understood all this?”
“Yes, perfectly; but —”
“Not another word, Miss Weeks. The change will do our little friend good. Trust my judgment, and ask her to do the same. Above all, do not be late for the train. Telephone at once for a cab, and forget everything but the pleasant trip before you. — Oh, one minute! There’s an article you had better send me. I hope you can guess what it is.”
“I think I can.”
“You know the city I am going to. Mark the package, General Delivery, and let me have it soon. That’s all.”
He hung up the receiver.
At midnight he started for Washington. He gave a political reason in excuse for this trip. He did not expect to be believed; but the spy, if such had been sent, had taken the earlier train on which the two ladies had left for Atlantic City. He knew every man who got on board of the same train as himself; and none of them were in league with Police Headquarters.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:09