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- Dark Hollow - 10/55 -
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.
WITH HER VEIL LIFTED
"You recognise me?"
"Too well." The tone was deep with meaning but there was no accusation in it; nor was there any note of relief. It was more as if some hope deeply, and perhaps unconsciously, cherished had suffered a sudden and complete extinction.
The change this made in him was too perceptible for her not to observe it. The shadow lying deep in her eyes now darkened her whole face. She had tried to prepare him for this moment; tried to prepare herself. But who can prepare the soul for the return of old troubles or make other than startling the resurrection of a ghost laid, as men thought, forever.
"You see that it was no fault of my own I was trying to hide," she finally remarked in her rich and sympathetic voice.
"Put back your veil."
It was all he said.
Trembling she complied, murmuring as she fumbled with its folds:
"Disgrace to an Ostrander! I know that I was mad to risk it for a moment. Forgive me for the attempt, and listen to my errand. Oliver was willing to marry my child, even after he knew the shame it would entail. But Reuther would not accept the sacrifice. When she learned, as she was obliged to now, that her father had not only been sentenced to death for the worst crime in the calendar, but had suffered the full penalty, leaving only a legacy of eternal disgrace to his wife and innocent child, she showed a spirit becoming a better parentage. In his presence, and in spite of his dissuasions (for he acted with all the nobility one might expect) she took off her veil with her own hands and laid it aside with a look expressive of eternal renunciation. She loves him, sir; and there is no selfishness in her heart and never has been. For all her frail appearance and the mildness of her temper, she is like flint where principle is involved or the welfare of those she loves is at stake. My daughter may die from shock or shame, but she will never cloud your son's prospects with the obloquy which has settled over her own. Judge Ostrander, I am not worthy of such a child, but such she is. If John--"
"We will not speak his name," broke in Judge Ostrander, assuming a peremptory bearing quite unlike his former one of dignified reserve. "I should like to hear, instead, your explanation of how my son became inveigled into an engagement of which you, if no one else, knew the preposterous nature."
"Judge Ostrander, you do right to blame me. I should never have given my consent, never. But I thought our past so completely hidden--our identity so entirely lost under the accepted name of Averill."
"You thought!" He towered over her in his anger. He looked and acted as in the old days, when witnesses cowered under his eye and voice. "Say that you KNEW, madam; that you planned this unholy trap for my son. You had a pretty daughter, and you saw to it that she came under his notice; nay, more, ignoring the claims of decency, you allowed the folly to proceed, if you did not help it on in your misguided ambition to marry your daughter well."
"Judge Ostrander, I did not plan their meeting, nor did I at first encourage his addresses. Not till I saw the extent of their mutual attachment, did I yield to the event and accept the consequences. But I was wrong, wholly wrong to allow him to visit her a second time; but now that the mischief is done--"
Judge Ostrander was not listening.
"I have a question to put you," said he, when he realised that she had ceased speaking. "Oliver was never a fool. When he was told who your daughter was, what did he say of the coincidence which made him the lover of the woman against whose father, his father had uttered a sentence of death? Didn't he marvel and call it extraordinary--the work of the devil?"
"Possibly; but if he did, it was not in any conversation he had with me."
"Detroit is a large city and must possess hundreds of sweet young girls within its borders. Could he contemplate without wonder the fact that he had been led to the door of the one above all others between whom and himself Fate had set such an insurmountable barrier? He must have been struck deeply by the coincidence; he must have been, madam."
Astonished at his manner, at the emphasis he placed upon this point which seemed to her so much less serious than many others, she regarded him doubtfully before saying:
"I was if he was not. From the very first I wondered. But I got used to the fact during the five months of his courtship. And I got used to another fact too; that my secret was safe so far as it ran the risk of being endangered by a meeting with yourself. Mr. Ostrander made it very plain to us that we need never expect to see you in Detroit."
"He did? Did he offer any explanation for this lack of--of sympathy between us?"
"Never. It was a topic he forbore to enter into and I think he only said what he did, to prevent any expectations on our part of ever seeing you."
"And your daughter? Was he as close-mouthed in speaking of me to her as he was to you?"
"I have no doubt of it. Reuther betrays no knowledge of you or of your habits, and has never expressed but one curiosity in your regard. As you can imagine what that is, I will not mention it."
"You are at liberty to. I have listened to much and can well listen to a little more."
"Judge, she is of a very affectionate nature and her appreciation of your son's virtues is very great. Though her conception of yourself is naturally a very vague one, it is only to be expected that she should wonder how you could live so long without a visit from Oliver."
Expectant as he was of this reply, and resolved as he was, to hear it unmoved, he had miscalculated his strength or his power of concealment, for he turned aside immediately upon hearing it, and walked away from her towards the further extremity of the room. Covertly she watched him; first through her veil, and then with it partly removed. She did not understand his mood; and she hardly understood her own. When she entered upon this interview, her mind had been so intent upon one purpose that it seemed to absorb all her faculties and reach every corner of her heart; yet here she was, after the exchange of many words between them, with her purpose uncommunicated and her heart unrelieved, staring at him not in the interest of her own griefs, but in commiseration of his.
Yet when he faced her once more every thought vanished from her mind save the one which had sustained her through the extraordinary measures she had taken to secure herself this opportunity of presenting her lost cause to the judgment of the only man from whom she could expect aid.
But her impulse was stayed and her thoughts sent wandering again by the penetrating look he gave her before she let her veil fall again.
"How long have you been in Detroit?" he asked.
"And how old is Reuther?"
"Twelve years ago, then." He paused and glanced about him before adding, "She was about the age of the child you brought to my house today."
"Yes, sir, very nearly."
His lips took a strange twist. There was self-contempt in it, and some other very peculiar and contradictory emotion. But when this semblance of a smile had passed, it was no longer Oliver's father she saw before her, but the county's judge. Even his tone partook of the change as he dryly remarked:
"What you have told me concerning your daughter and my son is very interesting. But it was not for the simple purpose of informing me
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