On the instant he recognised that no common interview lay before him. She was still the mysterious stranger, and she still wore her veil — a fact all the more impressive that it was no longer the accompaniment of a hat, but flung freely over her bare head. He frowned as he met her eyes through this disguising gauze. This attempt at an incognito for which there seemed to be no adequate reason, had a theatrical look wholly out of keeping with the situation. But he made no allusion to it, nor was the bow with which he acknowledged her presence and ushered her into the room, other than courteous. Nevertheless, she was the first to speak.
“This is very good of you, Judge Ostrander,” she remarked, in a voice both cultured and pleasant. “I could hardly have hoped for this honour. After what happened this morning at your house, I feared that my wish for an interview would not only be disregarded by you, but that you would utterly refuse me the privilege of seeing you. I own to feeling greatly relieved. Such consideration shown to a stranger, argues a spirit of unusual kindliness.”
A tirade. He simply bowed.
“Or perhaps I am mistaken in my supposition,” she suggested, advancing a step, but no more. “Perhaps I am no stranger to you? Perhaps you know my name?”
She paused, showing her disappointment quite openly. Then drawing up a chair, she leaned heavily on its back, saying in low, monotonous tones from which the former eager thrill had departed:
“I see that the intended marriage of your son has made very little impression upon you.”
Aghast for the moment, this was such a different topic from the one he expected, the judge regarded her in silence before remarking:
“I have known nothing of it. My son’s concerns are no longer mine. If you have broken into my course of life for no other purpose than to discuss the affairs of Oliver Ostrander, I must beg you to excuse me. I have nothing to say in his connection to you or to any one.”
“Is the breach between you so deep as that!”
This she said in a low tone and more as if to herself than to him. Then, with a renewal of courage indicated by the steadying of her form and a spirited uplift of her head, she observed with a touch of command in her voice:
“There are some things which must be discussed whatever our wishes or preconceived resolves. The separation between you and Mr. Oliver Ostrander cannot be so absolute (since whatever your cause of complaint you are still his father and he your son) that you will allow his whole life’s happiness to be destroyed for the lack of a few words between yourself and me.”
He had made his bow, and he now proceeded to depart, severity in his face and an implacable resolution in his eye. But some impulse made him stop; some secret call from deeply hidden, possibly unrecognised, affections gave him the will to say:
“A plea uttered through a veil is like an unsigned message. It partakes too much of the indefinite. Will you lift your veil, madam?”
“In a minute,” she assured him. “The voice can convey truth as certainly as the features. I will not deny you a glimpse of the latter after you have heard my story. Will you hear it, judge? Issues of no common importance hang upon your decision. I entreat~-but no, you are a just man; I will rely upon your sense of right. If your son’s happiness fails to appeal to you, let that of a young and innocent girl lovely as few are lovely either in body or mind.”
“No, my daughter! Oliver Ostrander has done us that honour, sir. He had every wish and had made every preparation to marry my child, when — Shall I go on?”
It was shortly said, but a burden seemed to fall from her shoulders at its utterance. Her whole graceful form relaxed swiftly into its natural curves, and an atmosphere of charm from this moment enveloped her, which justified the description of Mrs. Yardley, even without a sight of the features she still kept hidden.
“I am a widow, sir.” Thus she began with studied simplicity. “With my one child I have been living in Detroit these many years — ever since my husband’s death, in fact. We are not unliked there, nor have we lacked respect. When some six months ago, your son, who stands high in every one’s regard, as befits his parentage and his varied talents, met my daughter and fell seriously in love with her, no one, so far as I know, criticised his taste or found fault with his choice. I was happy, after many years of anxiety; for I idolised my child and I had suffered from many apprehensions as to her future. Not that I had the right to be happy; I see that now. A woman with a secret — and my heart held a woful and desperate one — should never feel that that secret lacks power to destroy her because it has long lain quiescent. I thought my child safe, and rejoiced as any woman might rejoice, and as I would rejoice now, if Fate were to obliterate that secret and emancipate us all from the horror of it.”
She paused, waiting for some acknowledgment of his interest, but not getting it, went on bitterly enough, for his stolidity was a very great mystery to her:
“And she WAS safe, to all appearance, up to the very morning of her marriage — the marriage of which you say you had received no intimation though Oliver seems a very dutiful son.”
“Madam!”— The hoarseness of his tone possibly increased its peremptory character —“I really must ask you to lay aside your veil.”
It was a rebuke and she felt it to be so; but though she blushed behind her veil, she did not remove it.
“Pardon me,” she begged and very humbly, “but I cannot yet. You will see why later. — Let me reveal my secret first. I am coming to it, Judge Ostrander; I cannot keep it back much longer.”
He was too much of a gentleman to insist upon his wishes, but she saw by the gloom of his eye and a certain nervous twitching of his hands that it was not from mere impassiveness that his features had acquired their rigidity. Smitten with compunction, she altered her tone into one more deprecatory:
“My story will be best told,” she now said, “if I keep all personal element out of it. You must imagine Reuther, dressed in her wedding finery, waiting for her bridegroom to take her to church. We were sitting, she and I, in our little parlour, watching the clock — for it was very near the hour. At times, her face turned towards me for a brief moment, and I felt all the pang of motherhood again, for her loveliness was not of this earth but of a land where there is no sin, no — There! the memory was a little too much for me, sir; but I’ll not transgress again; the future holds too many possibilities of suffering for me to dwell upon the past. She was lovely and her loveliness sprang from a pure hope. We will let that suffice, and what I dreaded was not what happened, inexcusable as such blindness and presumption may appear in a woman who has had her troubles and seen the desperate side of life.
“A carriage had driven up; and we heard his step; but it was not the step of a bridegroom, Judge Ostrander, nor was the gentleman he left behind him at the kerb, the friend who was to stand up with him. To Reuther, innocent of all deception, this occasioned only surprise, but to me it meant the end of Reuther’s marriage and of my own hopes. I shrank from the ordeal and stood with my back half turned when, dashed by his own emotions, he bounded into our presence.
“One look my way and his question was answered before he put it. Judge Ostrander, the name under which I had lived in Detroit was not my real one. I had let him court and all but marry my daughter, without warning him in any way of what this deception on my part covered. But others — one other, I have reason now to believe — had detected my identity under the altered circumstances of my new life, and surprised him with the news at this late hour. We are — Judge Ostrander, you know who we are. This is not the first time you and I have seen each other face to face.” And lifting up a hand, trembling with emotion, she put aside her veil.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:09