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- Dark Hollow - 40/55 -
"I am glad," said he, "of any occasion which brings you again under my roof, though from the appearance of your companion I judge the present one to be of no very agreeable character."
"He's honest enough," muttered Black, with a glance towards Deborah, for the understanding of which the judge held no key. Then, changing the subject, "You had a very unfortunate experience this afternoon. Allow me to express my regret at an outbreak so totally unwarranted."
A grumble came from the hall without. Evidently his charge, if we may so designate the fellow he had brought there, had his own ideas on this subject.
"Quiet out there!" shouted Mr. Black. "Mrs. Scoville, you need not trouble yourself to stand over Mr. Flannagan any longer. I'll look after him."
She bowed and was turning away when the judge intervened.
"Is there any objection," he asked, "to Mrs. Scoville's remaining present at this interview?"
"None whatever," answered the lawyer.
"Then, Mrs. Scoville, may I request you to come in?"
If she hesitated, it was but natural. Exhaustion is the obvious result of so many excitements, and that she was utterly exhausted was very apparent. Mr. Black cast her a commiserating smile, but the judge only noticed that she entered the room at his bidding and sat down by the window. He was keying himself up to sustain a fresh excitement. He was as exhausted as she, possibly more so. He had a greater number of wearing years to his credit.
"Judge, I'm your friend;" thus Mr. Black began. "Thinking you must wish to know who started the riotous procedure which disgraced our town to-day, I have brought the ringleader here to answer for himself--that is, if you wish to question him."
Judge Ostrander wheeled about, gave the man a searching look, and failing to recognise him as any one he had ever seen before, beckoned him in.
"I suppose," said he, when the lounging and insolent figure was fairly before their eyes, "that this is not the first time you have been asked to explain your enmity to my long absent son."
"Naw; I've had my talk wherever and whenever I took the notion. Oliver Ostrander hit me once. I was jest a little chap then and meanin' no harm to any one. I kept a-pesterin' of 'im and he hit me. He'd a better have hit a feller who hadn't my memory. I've never forgiven that hit, and I never will. That's why I'm hittin' him now. It's just my turn; that's all."
"Your turn! YOUR turn! And what do you think has given YOU an opportunity to turn on HIM?"
"I'm not in the talkin' mood just now," the fellow drawled, frankly insolent, not only in his tone but in his bearing to all present. "Nor can you make it worth my while, you gents. I'll not take money. I'm an honest hard-workin' man who can earn his own livin', and you can't pay me to keep still, or to go away from Shelby a day sooner than I want to. I was goin' away, but I gave it up when they told me that things were beginnin' to look black against Ol Ostrander;--that a woman had come into town who was a- stirrin' up things generally about that old murder for which a feller had already been 'lectrocuted, and knowin' somethin' myself about that murder and Ol Ostrander, I--well, I stayed."
The quiet threat, the suggested possibility, the attack which wraps itself in vague uncertainty, are ever the most effective. As his raucous voice, dry with sinister purpose which no man could shake, died out in an offensive drawl, Mr. Black edged a step nearer the judge, before he sprang and caught the young fellow by the coat-collar and gave him a very vigorous shake.
"See here!" he threatened. "Behave yourself and treat the judge like a gentleman or--"
"Or what?" the bulldog mouth sneered. "See here yourself," he now shouted, as the lawyer's hands unloosed and he stood panting; "I'm not afeard o' you, sir, nor of the jedge, nor of the lady nuther. I KNOWS somethin', I do; and when I gets ready to tell it, we'll just see whose coat-collar they'll be handlin'. I came 'cause I wanted to see the inside o' the house Ol Ostrander's father doesn't think him good enough to live in. It's grand; but this part here isn't the whole of it. There's a door somewhere which nobody never opens unless it's the jedge there. I'd like to see what's behind that 'ere door. If it's somethin' to make a good story out of, I might be got to keep quiet about this other thing. I don't know, but I MIGHT."
The swagger with which he said this, the confidence in himself which he showed and the reliance he so openly put in the something he knew but could not be induced to tell, acted so strongly upon Mr. Black's nerves, that he leaped towards him again, evidently with the intention of dragging him from the house.
But the judge was not ready for this. The judge had gained a new lease of life in the last half-hour and he felt no fear of this sullen bill-poster for all his sly innuendoes. He, therefore, hindered the lawyer from his purpose, by a quick gesture of so much dignity and resolve that even the lout himself was impressed and dropped some of his sullen bravado.
"I have something to say to this fellow," he announced, looking anywhere but at the drooping figure in the window which ought, above all things in the world, to have engaged his attention. "Perhaps he does not know his folly. Perhaps he thinks because I was thrown aback to-day by those public charges against my son and a string of insults for which no father could be prepared, that I am seriously disturbed over the position into which such unthinking men as himself have pushed Mr. Oliver Ostrander. I might be if there were truth in these charges or any serious reason for connecting my upright and honourable son with the low crime of a highwayman. BUT THERE IS NOT. I aver it and so will this lady here whom you have doubtless recognised for the one who has stirred this matter up. You can bring no evidence to show guilt on my son's part,"--these words he directed straight at the discomfited poster of bills--"BECAUSE THERE IS NO EVIDENCE TO BRING."
Mr. Black's eyes sparkled with admiration. He could not have used this method with the lad, but he recognised the insight of the man who could. Bribes were a sign of weakness, so were suggested force and counter-attack; but scorn--a calm ignoring of the power of any one to seriously shake Oliver Ostrander's established position-- that might rouse wrath and bring avowal; certainly it had shaken the man; he looked much less aggressive and self-confident than before.
However, though impressed, he was not yet ready to give in. Shuffling about with his feet but not yet shrinking from an encounter few men of his stamp would have cared to subject themselves to, he answered with a remark delivered with a little more civility than any of his previous ones:
"What you call evidence may not be the same as I calls evidence. If you're satisfied at thinkin' my word's no good, that's your business. I know how I should feel if I was Ol Ostrander's father and knew what I know."
"Let him go," spoke up a wavering voice. It was Deborah's.
But the judge was deaf to the warning. Deborah's voice had but reminded him of Deborah's presence. Its tone had escaped him. He was too engrossed in the purpose he had in mind to notice shades of inflection.
But Mr. Black had, and quick as thought he echoed her request:
"He is forgetting himself. Let him go, Judge Ostrander."
But that astute magistrate, wise in all other causes but his own, was no more ready now than before to do this.
"In a moment," he conceded. "Let me first make sure that this man understands me. I have said that there exists no evidence against my son. I did not mean that there may not be supposed evidence. That is more than probable. No suspicion could have been felt and none of these outrageous charges made, without that. He was unfortunate enough not only to have been in the ravine that night but to have picked up Scoville's stick and carried it towards the bridge, whittling it as he went. But his connection with the crime ends there. He dropped this stick before he came to where the wood path joins Factory Road; and another hand than his raised it against Etheridge. This I aver; and this the lady here will aver. You have probably already recognised her. If not, allow me to tell you that she is the lady whose efforts have brought back this case to the public mind: Mrs. Scoville, the wife of John Scoville and the one of all others who has the greatest interest in proving her husband's innocence. If she says, that after the most careful inquiry and a conscientious reconsideration of this case, she has found herself forced to come to the conclusion that justice has already been satisfied in this matter, you will believe her, won't you?"
"I don't know," drawled the man, a low and cunning expression lighting up his ugly countenance. "She wants to marry her daughter to your son. Any live dog is better than a dead one; I guess her opinion don't go for much."
Recoiling before a cynicism that pierced with unerring skill the one joint in his armour he knew to be vulnerable, the judge took a minute in which to control his rage and then addressing the half- averted figure in the window said:
"Mrs. Scoville, will you assure this man that you have no expectations of marrying your daughter to Oliver Ostrander?"
With a slow movement more suggestive of despair than any she had been seen to make since the hour of her indecision had first struck, she shifted in her seat and finally faced them, with the assertion:
"Reuther Scoville will never marry Oliver Ostrander. Whatever my wishes or willingness in the matter, she herself is so determined. Not because she does not believe in his integrity, for she does; but because she will not unite herself to one whose prospects in
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