Judge Barrett had always found a bed at his sister’s, no matter at what hour of day or night he chose to stagger in; but the large family combined efforts to prevent the contretemps of a meeting between him and Ruth. Their promise to her mother was too sacred for trifling, and they loved the girl too well to risk being deprived of her society. Destiny, or chance, was too strong for them. It was on a bright, sunlit day, when Ruth was in an animated discussion with her cousin Roger upon the merits of Vassar College, recently thrown open to young women, which he declared was only a place where they transformed a girl into a boy.
“Never go there, Coz, if you wish to retain an iota of your womanhood.”
“Prejudice, prejudice;” she retorted. “I do believe in the higher education of women and I am certainly going to Vassar, if I can persuade my mother to part from me so long.”
“Why not take her with you?” Mrs. Stanton was saying, when horror of horrors, there appeared at the side door of the large sitting-room a flushed and tangled-looking creature, tottering and righting up alternately. All eyes were turned upon him, and every voice was dumb. Steadying himself within the door, he slowly surveyed the young faces grouped there, till his bloodshot gaze fell upon Ruth’s white, wondering countenance. Perhaps she reminded him of the wife who had repudiated him. Perhaps some dawning instinct was at work. He staggered up to the girl, who never once turned her eyes, and placing a hand upon her head, said in the words of Childe Harold: “Is thy face like thy mother’s, my fair child?”
Tears sprang to every eye; but Ruth, first gasping as with a revelation from some long-dormant recess of her brain, arose, and catching his hand as it fell powerless, burst out:
“Who are you? Are you my—father? Oh, tell me!” she appealed to the group about her—“my father?” and stood breathless before him.
The word seemed to sober him with a mighty shock. He sank upon his knees, her hands still clasping his, and burying his hot face in her cool palms, murmured in choking accents:
“Her father—my child—my God, I thank thee!”
But the strain was too much. In a moment more he sank all in a heap upon the floor, limp and lifeless.
Passionately the girl knelt beside him, and looked searchingly into his now colorless face, while the others hastened with restoratives. Nor did she leave him during the days of illness that followed, except when obliged to rest. Little by little they had told her the story.
She only said: “Oh, I never dreamed he was like this. I used to think he must be something inhuman, horrible. Then I found myself staring at every stranger, especially if he was monstrous, or in the least hideous. But I had given up all hope, and was afraid to ask.”
“No, my dear child;” soothingly said her aunt, “your father is not horrible, or hideous except that he is the slave of drink. He is not inhuman, but a tender, loving creature. He is a gentleman, cultured and learned. There is nothing fine in the language he cannot repeat, so wonderful is his gift of memory. Oh, my child, can you not—will you not help him? You can win him, I feel sure.”