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- Dark Hollow - 30/55 -


She had to wait longer than her beating heart desired. He had his own agitation to master, and possibly his own doubts. This was not the fiery, determined woman he had encountered amid the ruins of Spencer's Folly. WHAT HAD MADE THE CHANGE? Black's discouraging advice? Hardly. Why should she take from that hard-faced lawyer what she had not been willing to take from himself? There must have been some other influencing cause.

His look, his attitude, his voice, betrayed his hesitations, as he finally remarked:

"Black is a man of excellent counsel, but he is hard as a stone and not of the sort whose monitions I should expect to have weight with one like you. What did he put in the balance,--or what have others put in the balance, to send your passionate intentions flying up to the beam? I should be glad to hear."

Should she tell him? She had a momentary impulse that way. Then the irrevocableness of such a move frightened her; and, pale with dismay at what she felt to be a narrow escape from a grave error of judgment, she answered with just enough truth, for her to hope that the modicum of falsehood accompanying it would escape his attention:

"What has changed my intentions? My experience here, Judge Ostrander. With every day I pass under this roof, I realise more and more the mistake I made in supposing that any change in circumstances would make a union between our two children proper or feasible. Headstrong as I am by nature, I have still some sense of the fitness of things, and it is that sense awakened by a better knowledge of what the Ostrander name stands for, which has outweighed my hopes and mad intentions. I am sorry that I ever troubled you with them."

The words were ambiguous; startlingly so, she felt; but, in hope that they would strike him otherwise, she found courage at last to raise her eyes in search of what lay in his. Nothing, or so she thought at first, beyond the glint of a natural interest; then her mind changed, and she felt that it would take one much better acquainted with his moods than herself to read to its depths a gaze so sombre and inscrutable.

His answer, coming after a moment of decided suspense, only deepened this impression. It was to this effect:

"Madam, we have said our say on this subject. If you have come to see the matter as I see it, I can but congratulate you upon your good sense, and express the hope that it will continue to prevail. Reuther is worthy of the best--" he stopped abruptly. "Reuther is a girl after my own heart," he gently supplemented, with a glance towards his papers lying in a bundle at his elbow, "and she shall not suffer because of this disappointment to her girlish hopes. Tell her so with my love."

It was a plain dismissal. Mrs. Scoville took it as such, and quietly left the room. As she did so she was approached by Reuther who handed her a letter which had just been delivered. It was from Mr. Black and read thus:

We have found the rogue and have succeeded in inducing him to leave town. He's a man in the bill-sticking business and he owns to a grievance against the person we know.

Deborah's sleep that night was without dreams.

XXI

IN THE COURT ROOM

About this time, the restless pacing of the judge in his study at nights became more frequent and lasted longer. In vain Reuther played her most cheerful airs and sang her sweetest songs, the monotonous tramp kept up with a regularity nothing could break.

"He's worried by the big case now being tried before him," Deborah would say, when Reuther's eyes grew wide and misty in her sympathetic trouble. And there was no improbability in the plea, for it was a case of much moment, and of great local interest. A man was on trial for his life and the circumstances of the case were such that the feeling called forth was unusually bitter; so much so, indeed, that every word uttered by the counsel and every decision made by the judge were discussed from one end of the county to the other, and in Shelby, if nowhere else, took precedence of all other topics, though it was a Presidential year and party sympathies ran high.

The more thoughtful spirits were inclined to believe in the innocence of the prisoner; but the lower elements of the town, moved by class prejudice, were bitterly antagonistic to his cause and loud for his conviction.

Did the judge realise his position and the effect made upon the populace by his very evident leaning towards this dissipated but well-connected young man accused of a crime so brutal, that he must either have been the sport of most malicious circumstances, or a degenerate of the worst type. The time of Judge Ostrander's office was nearly up, and his future continuance on the bench might very easily depend upon his attitude at the present hearing. Yet HE, without apparent recognition of this fact, showed without any hesitancy or possibly without self-consciousness, the sympathy he felt for the man at the bar, and ruled accordingly almost without variation.

No wonder he paced the floor as the proceedings drew towards its close and the inevitable hour approached when a verdict must be rendered. Mrs. Scoville, reading his heart by the light of her recent discoveries, understood as nobody else, the workings of his conscience and the passion of sympathy which this unhappy father must have for misguided youth. She began to fear for his health and count the days till this ordeal was over.

In other regards, quiet had come to them all and less tempestuous fears. Could the judge but weather the possible conviction of this man and restrain himself from a disclosure of his own suffering, more cheerful days might be in store for them, for no further missives were to be seen on the lawn, nor had anything occurred for days to recall to Deborah's mind the move she had made towards re-establishing her husband's innocence.

A week passed, and the community was all agog, in anticipation of the judge's charge in the case just mentioned. It was to be given at noon, and Mrs. Scoville, conscious that he had not slept an hour the night before (having crept down more than once to listen if his step had ceased), approached him as he prepared to leave the house for the court room, and anxiously asked if he were quite well.

"Oh, yes, I'm well," he responded sharply, looking about for Reuther.

The young girl was standing a little behind him, with his gloves in her hand--a custom she had fallen into in her desire to have his last look and fond good morning.

"Come here, child," said he, in a way to make her heart beat; and, as he took the gloves from her hand, he stooped and kissed her on the forehead--something he had never done before. "Let me see you smile," said he. "It's a memory I like to take with me into the court room."

But when in her pure delight at his caress and the fatherly feeling which gave a tremor to his simple request, she lifted her face with that angelic look of hers which was far sweeter and far more moving than any smile, he turned away abruptly as though he had been more hurt than comforted, and strode out of the house without another word.

Deborah's hand went to her heart, in the dark corner whither she had withdrawn herself, and when she turned again towards the spot where Reuther had stood, it was in some fear lest she had betrayed her understanding of this deeply tried father's passionate pain. But Reuther was no longer there. She had fled quickly away with the memory of what was to make this day a less dreary one for her.

Morning passed and the noon came, bringing Deborah an increased uneasiness. When lunch was over and Reuther sat down to her piano, the feeling had grown into an obsession, which soon resolved itself into a definite fear.

"What if an attack, such as I once saw, should come upon him while he sits upon the bench! Why have I not thought of this before? O God! these evil days! When will they be over!"

She found herself so restless that she decided upon going out. Donning her quietest gown and veil, she looked in on Reuther and expressed her intention; then slipped out of the front door, hardly knowing whither her feet would carry her.

They did not carry her far,--not at this moment at least. On the walk outside she met Miss Weeks hurrying towards her from the corner, stumbling in her excitement and so weakened in body or spirit that she caught at the unresponsive fence for the support which its smooth surface refused to give her.

At sight of Deborah's figure, she paused and threw up her hands.

"Oh, Mrs. Scoville, such a dreadful thing!" she cried. "Look here!" And, opening one of her hands, she showed a few torn scraps of paper whose familiarity made Deborah's blood run cold.

"On the bridge," gasped the little lady, leaning against the fence for support. "Pasted on the railing of the bridge. I should never have seen it, nor looked at it, if it hadn't been that I--"

"Don't tell me here," urged Deborah. "Let's go over to your house. See, there are people coming."

The little lady yielded to the other's constraining hand and together they crossed the street. Once in the house, Deborah allowed her full apprehension to show itself.

"What were the words? What was on the paper? Anything about--"

The little woman's look of horror stopped her.

"It's a lie, an awful, abominable lie. But think of such a lie


Dark Hollow - 30/55

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