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- Dark Hollow - 20/55 -


"Of course they produced the knife?"

"Yes, they produced the knife."

"It was in his pocket?"

"Yes."

"Have they that here?"

"No, we haven't that here."

"But you remember it?"

"Remember it?"

"Was it a new knife, a whole one, I mean, with all its blades sharp and in good order?"

"Yes. I can say that. I handled it several times."

"Then, whose blade left that?" And again she pointed to the same place on the stick where her finger had fallen before.

"I don't know what you mean." The sergeant looked puzzled. Perhaps, his eyesight was not very keen.

"Have you a magnifying-glass? There is something embedded in this wood. Try and find out what it is."

The sergeant, with a queer look at Mr. Black, who returned it with interest, went for a glass, and when he had used it, the stare he gave the heavily veiled woman drove Mr. Black to reach out his own hand for the glass.

"Well," he burst forth, after a prolonged scrutiny, "there is something there."

"The point of a knife blade. The extreme point," she emphasised. "It might easily escape the observation even of the most critical, without such aid as is given by this glass."

"No one thought of using a magnifying-glass on this," blurted out the sergeant. "The marks made by the knife were plain enough for all to see, and that was all which seemed important."

Mr. Black said nothing; he was feeling a trifle cheap;--something which did not agree with his crusty nature. Not having seen Mrs. Scoville for a half-hour without her veil, her influence over him was on the wane, and he began to regret that he had laid himself open to this humiliation.

She saw that it would be left for her to wind up the interview and get out of the place without arousing too much attention. With a self-possession which astonished both men, knowing her immense interest in this matter, she laid down the stick, and, with a gentle shrug of her shoulders, remarked in an easy tone:

"Well, it's curious! The inns and outs of a crime, I mean. Such a discovery ten years after the event (I think you said ten years) is very interesting." Then she sighed: "Alas! it's too late to benefit the one whose life it might have saved. Mr. Black, shall we be going? I have spent a most entertaining quarter of an hour."

Mr. Black glanced from her to the sergeant before he joined her. Then, with one of his sour smiles directed towards the former, he said:

"I wouldn't be talking about this, sergeant. It will do no good, and may subject us to ridicule."

The sergeant, none too well pleased, nodded slightly. Seeing which, she spoke up:

"I don't know about that, I should think it but proper reparation to the dead to let it be known that his own story of innocence has received this late confirmation."

But the lawyer continued to shake his head, with a very sharp look at the sergeant. If he could have his way, he would have this matter stop just where it was.

Alas! he was not to have his way, as he saw, when at parting he essayed to make a final protest against a public as well as premature reopening of this old case. She did not see her position as he did, and wound up her plea by saying:

"The public must lend their aid, if we are to get the evidence we need to help us. Can we find the man who whittled that stick? Never. But some one else may. I am going to give the men and women of this town a chance. I'm too anxious to clear my husband's memory to shrink from any publicity. You see, I believe that the real culprit will yet be found."

The lawyer dropped argument. When a woman speaks in that tone, persuasion is worse than useless. Besides, she had raised her veil. Strange, what a sensitive countenance will do!

XIV

ALL IS CLEAR

"This is my daughter, Judge Ostrander, Reuther, this is the judge."

The introduction took place at the outer gates whither the judge had gone to receive them.

Reuther threw aside her veil, and looked up into the face bent courteously towards her. It had no look of Oliver. Somehow she felt glad. She could hardly have restrained herself if he had met her gaze with Oliver's eyes. They were fine eyes notwithstanding, piercing by nature but just now misty with a feeling that took away all her fear. He was going to like her; she saw it in every trembling line of his countenance, and at the thought a smile rose to her lips which, if fleeting, lent such an ethereal aspect to her beauty that he forgave Oliver then and there for a love which never could be crowned, but which henceforth could no longer be regarded by him as despicable.

With a courteous gesture he invited them in, but stopping to lock one gate before leading them through the other, Mrs. Scoville had time to observe that since her last visit with its accompanying inroad of the populace, the two openings which at this point gave access to the walk between the fences had been closed up with boards so rude and dingy that they must have come from some old lumber pile in attic or cellar.

The judge detected her looking at them.

"I have cut off my nightly promenade," said he. "With youth in the house, more cheerful habits must prevail. To-morrow I shall have my lawn cut, and if I must walk after sundown I will walk there."

The two women exchanged glances. Perhaps their gloomy anticipations were not going to be realised.

But once within the house, the judge showed embarrassment. He was conscious of its unfitness for their fastidious taste and yet he had not known how to improve matters. In his best days he had concerned himself very little with household affairs, and for the last few years he had not given a thought to anything outside his own rooms. Bela had done all--and Bela was pre-eminently a cook, not a general house-servant. How would these women regard the disorder and the dust?

"I have few comforts to offer," said he, opening a door at his right and then hastily closing it again. "This part of the house is, as you see, completely dismantled and not--very clean. But you shall have carte blanche to arrange to your liking one of these rooms for your sitting-room and parlour. There is furniture in the attic and you may buy freely whatever else is necessary. I don't want to discourage little Reuther. As for your bedrooms--" He stopped, hemmed a little and flushed a vivid red as he pointed up the dingy flight of uncarpeted stairs towards which he had led them. "They are above; but it is with shame I admit that I have not gone above this floor for many years. Consequently, I don't know how it looks up there or whether you can even find towels and things. Perhaps you will go up first, Mrs. Scoville. I will stay here while you take a look. I really, couldn't have a strange cleaning-woman here, or any one who would make remarks. Have I counted too much on your good-nature?"

"No; not at all. In fact, you simply arouse all the housekeeping instincts within me. I will be down in a minute. Reuther, I leave you with the judge."

She ran lightly up. The next instant they heard her sneeze, then they caught the sound of a window rattling up, followed by a streak of light falling slant-wise across the dismal stairs.

The judge drew a breath of relief and led Reuther towards a door at the end of the hall.

"This is the way to the dining-room and kitchen," he explained." I have been accustomed to having my meals served in my own room, but after this I shall join you at table. Here," he continued, leading her up to the iron door, "is the entrance to my den. You may knock here if you want me, but there is a curtain beyond, which no one lifts but myself. You understand, my dear, and will excuse an old man's eccentricities?"

She smiled, rejoicing only in the caressing voice, and in the yearning, almost fatherly, manner with which he surveyed her.

"I quite understand," said she; "and so will mother."

"Reuther," he now observed with a strange intermixture of gentleness and authority, "there is one thing I wish to say to you at the very start. I may grow to love you--God knows that a little affection would be a welcome change in my life--but I want you to know and know now, that all the love in the world will not change my decision as to the impropriety of a match between you and my son Oliver. That settled, there is no reason why all should not be clear between us."


Dark Hollow - 20/55

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