When Mr. Black came into Shelby, he came alone. He was anxious to get back; anxious to face his enemies if he had any; anxious to see Deborah and explain. Miss Weeks and Reuther followed on more slowly; this was better for them and better for him, and better, too, for Deborah, who must hear his story without the distraction of her daughter’s presence.
It was dark when he stepped on to the platform, and darker still when he rang the bell of Judge Ostrander’s house. But it was not late, and his agitation had but few minutes in which to grow, before the gate swung wide and he felt her hand in his.
She was expecting him. He had telegraphed the hour at which he should arrive, and also when to look for Reuther. Consequently there was no necessity for preliminaries, and he could ask at once for the judge and whether he was strong enough to bear disappointment.
Deborah’s answer was certainly disconcerting.
“I’ve not seen him. He admits nobody. When I enter the library, he retreats to his bed-room. I have not even been allowed to hand him his letters. I put them on his tray when I carry in his meals.”
“He has received letters then?”
“Unimportant ones, yes.”
“None from Oliver?”
Another pause. The echo of that name so uttered was too sweet in her ear for her to cut it short by too hasty a reply. When she did speak, it was humbly, or should I say, wistfully.
“Yes, Mr. Black.”
“I am afraid he never will hear from Oliver. The boy gave us the slip in the most remarkable manner. I will tell you when we get inside.”
She led him up the walk. She moved slowly, and he felt the influence of her discouragement. But once in the lighted parlour, she turned upon him the face he knew best — the mother face.
“Did Reuther see him?” she asked.
Then he told her the whole story.
When she had heard him through, she looked about the room they were in, with a lingering, abstracted gaze he hardly understood till he saw it fall with an indescribable aspect of sorrow upon a picture which had lately been found and rehung upon the wall. It was a portrait of Oliver’s mother.
“I am disappointed,” she murmured in bitter reflection to herself. “I did not expect Oliver to clear himself, but I did expect him to face his accusers if only for his father’s sake. What am I to say now to the judge?”
“Nothing to-night. In the morning we will talk the whole subject over. I must first explain myself to Andrews, and, if possible, learn his intentions; then I shall know better what to advise.”
“Did the officer you met on your return from Tempest Lodge follow you to Shelby?”
“I have not seen him.”
“That is bad. He followed Oliver.”
“It was to be expected.”
“Oliver is in Canada?”
“Which means —”
“Delay, then extradition. It’s that fellow Flannagan who has brought this upon us. The wretch knows something which forbids us to hope.”
“Alas, yes.” And a silence followed, during which such entire stillness rested upon the house that a similar thought rose in both minds. Could it be that under this same roof, and only separated from them by a partition, there brooded another human being helplessly awaiting a message which would never come, and listening, but how vainly, for the step and voice for which he hungered, though they were the prelude to further shame and the signal for coming punishment.
So strong was this thought in both their minds, that the shadow deepened upon both faces, as though a presence had passed between them; and when Mr. Black rose, as he very soon did, it was with an evident dread of leaving her alone with this thought.
They were lingering yet in the hall, the goodnight faltering on their lips, when suddenly their eyes flashed together in mutual question, and Deborah bent her ear towards the street.
An automobile was slowing up — stopping — stopping before the gates! Deborah turned and looked at Mr. Black. Was it the police? No, for the automobile was starting up again — it was going. Whoever had come had come to stay. With eyes still on those of Mr. Black, whose face showed a sudden change, she threw her hand behind her and felt wildly about for the door-knob. She had just grasped it — when the bell rang. Never had it sounded so shrill and penetrating. Never had it rung quite such a summons through this desolate house. Recoiling, she made a motion of entreaty.
“Go,” she whispered. “Open! I cannot.”
Quickly he obeyed. She heard him pass out and down the walk, and through the first gate. Then there came a silence, followed by the opening of the second gate. Then, a sound like smothered greetings, followed by quickly advancing steps and a voice she knew:
“How is my father? Is he well? I cannot enter till I know.”
It was Oliver! — come from some distant station, or from some other line which he had believed unwatched. Tumultuous as her thoughts were, she dared not indulge in them for a moment, or give way to gratitude or any other emotion. There were words to be said — words which must be uttered on the instant and with as much imperiousness as his own.
Throwing the door wide, she called down the steps:
“Yes, he is well. Come in, Mr. Ostrander, and you, too, Mr. Black. Instructions have been given me by the judge, which I must deliver at once. He expects you, Oliver,” she went on, as the two men stepped in. “But not knowing when, he bade me say to you immediately upon your entrance (and I am happy to be able to do this in Mr. Black’s presence), that much as he would like to be on hand to greet you, he cannot see you to-night. You may wish to go to him — but you must restrain this wish. Nor are you to talk, though he does not forbid you to listen. If you do not know what has happened here, Mr. Black will tell you, but for to-night at least, and up to a certain hour to-morrow, you are to keep your own counsel. When certain persons whose names he has given me can be gotten together in this house, he will join you, giving you your first meeting in the presence of others. Afterwards he will see you alone. If these plans distress you — if you find the delay hard, I am to say that it is even harder for him than it can be for you. But circumstances compel him to act thus, and he expects you to understand and be patient. Mr. Black, assure Mr. Ostrander that I am not likely to overstate the judge’s commands, or to add to or detract from them in the least particular — that I am simply the judge’s mouthpiece.”
“You may believe that, Mr. Ostrander.” Young Ostrander bowed.
“I have no doubt of the fact,” he assured her, with an unsuccessful effort to keep his trouble out of his voice. “But as my father allows me some explanation, I shall be very glad to hear what has happened here to occasion my imperative recall.”
“Do you not read the papers, Mr. Ostrander?”
“I have not looked at one since I started upon my return.”
Mr. Black glanced at Deborah, who was slipping away. Then he made a move towards the parlour.
“If you will come in and sit down, Mr. Ostrander, I’ll tell you what you have every right to know.”
But when they found themselves alone together, Oliver’s manner altered.
“One moment,” said he, before Mr. Black could speak. “I should like to ask you first of all, if Miss Scoville is better. When I left you both so suddenly at Tempest Lodge, she was not well. I—”
“She is quite recovered, Mr. Ostrander.”
“And is here?”
“Not yet. I came back quickly — like yourself.”
Involuntarily their glances met in a question which perhaps neither desired to have answered. Then Oliver remarked quite simply:
“My haste seemed warranted by my father’s message. Five minutes — one minute even is of great importance when you have but fifteen in which to catch a train.”
“And by such a route!”
“You know my route.” A short laugh escaped him. “I feared the delay — possibly the interference — But why discuss these unimportant matters! I succeeded in my efforts. I am here, at my father’s command, unattended and, as I believe, without the knowledge of any one but yourself and Mrs. Scoville. But your reason for these hasty summons — that is what I am ready now to hear.” And he sat down, but in such a way as to throw his face very much into the shadow.
This was a welcome circumstance to the lawyer. His task promised to be hard enough at the best. Black night had not offered too dark a screen between him and the man thus suddenly called upon to face suspicions the very shadow of which is enough to destroy a life. The hardy lawyer shrunk from uttering the words which would make the gulf imaginatively opening between them a real, if not impassable, one. Something about the young man appealed to him — something apart from his relationship to the judge — something inherent in himself. Perhaps it was the misery he betrayed. Perhaps it was the memory of Reuther’s faith in him and how that faith must suffer when she saw him next. Instantaneous reflections; but epoch-making in a mind like his. Alanson Black had never hesitated before in the face of any duty, and it robbed him of confidence. But he gave no proof of this in voice or manner, as pacing the floor in alternate approach and retreat, he finally addressed the motionless figure he could no longer ignore.
“You want to know what has happened here? If you mean lately, I shall have to explain that anything which has lately occurred to distress your father or make your presence here desirable, has its birth in events which date back to days when this was your home and the bond between yourself and father the usual and natural one.”
Silence in that shadowy corner! But this the speaker had expected, and must have exacted even if Oliver had shown the least intention of speaking.
“A man was killed here in those old days — pardon me if I am too abrupt — and another man was executed for this crime. You were a boy — but you must remember.”
Again he paused; but no more in expectation of or desire for an answer than before. One must breathe between the blows he inflicts, even if one is a lawyer.
“That was twelve years ago. Not so long a time as has elapsed since you met a waif of the streets and chastised him for some petty annoyance. But both events, the great and the little, have been well remembered here in Shelby; and when Mrs. Scoville came amongst us a month or so ago, with her late but substantial proofs of her husband’s innocence in the matter of Etheridge’s death, there came to her aid a man, who not only remembered the beating he had received as a child, but certain facts which led him to denounce by name, the party destined to bear at this late day the onus of the crime heretofore ascribed to Scoville. That name he wrote on bridges and walls; and one day, when your father left the courthouse, a mob followed him, shouting loud words which I will not repeat, but which you must understand were such as must be met and answered when the man so assailed is Judge Ostrander. Have I said enough? If so, raise your hand and I will desist for to~night.”
But no movement took place in the shadow cast by Oliver’s figure on the wall before which Mr. Black had paused, and presently, a voice was heard from where he sat, saying:
“You are too merciful. I do not want generalities but the naked truth. What did the men shout?”
“You have asked for a fact, and that I feel free to give you. They shouted, ‘Where is Oliver, your guilty son, Oliver? You saved him at a poor man’s expense, but we’ll have him yet.’ You asked me for the words, Mr. Ostrander.”
“Yes.” The pause was long, but the “Yes” came at last. Then another silence, and then this peremptory demand: “But we cannot stop here, Mr. Black. If I am to meet my father’s wishes tomorrow, I must know the ground upon which I stand. What evidence lies back of these shouts? If you are my friend — and you have shown yourself to be such — you will tell me the whole story. I shall say nothing more.”
Mr. Black was not walking now; he was standing stock-still and in the shadow also. And with this space and the double shadow between them, Alanson Black told Oliver Ostrander why the people had shouted: “We will have him yet.”
When he had quite finished, he came into the light. He did not look in the direction he had avoided from the first, but his voice had a different note as he remarked:
“I am your father’s friend, and I have promised to be yours. You may expect me here in the morning, as I am one of the few persons your father has asked to be present at your first interview. If after this interview you wish anything more from me, you have only to signify it. I am blunt, but not unfeeling, Mr. Ostrander.”
A slight lift of the hand, visible now in the shadow, answered him; and with a silent bow he left the room.
In the passage-way he met Deborah.
“Leave him to himself,” said he. “Later, perhaps, you can do something for him.”
But she found this quite impossible. Oliver would neither eat nor sleep. When the early morning light came, he was sitting there still. Was his father keeping vigil also? We shall never know.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:09