When he returned, as he did in the time specified, he had but one word for her.
“Gone,” said he.
“Thank God!” she murmured and turned to Miss Weeks with a smile.
Not having a smile to add to hers, the lawyer withdrew.
Oliver was gone—but gone north.
When Mr. Black came into Shelby, he came alone. He was anxious to get back; anxious to face his enemies if he had any; anxious to see Deborah and explain. Miss Weeks and Reuther followed on more slowly; this was better for them and better for him, and better, too, for Deborah, who must hear his story without the distraction of her daughter’s presence.
It was dark when he stepped on to the platform, and darker still when he rang the bell of Judge Ostrander’s house. But it was not late, and his agitation had but few minutes in which to grow, before the gate swung wide and he felt her hand in his.
She was expecting him. He had telegraphed the hour at which he should arrive, and also when to look for Reuther. Consequently there was no necessity for preliminaries, and he could ask at once for the judge and whether he was strong enough to bear disappointment.
Deborah’s answer was certainly disconcerting.
“I’ve not seen him. He admits nobody. When I enter the library, he retreats to his bed-room. I have not even been allowed to hand him his letters. I put them on his tray when I carry in his meals.”
“He has received letters then?”
“Unimportant ones, yes.”
“None from Oliver?”
Another pause. The echo of that name so uttered was too sweet in her ear for her to cut it short by too hasty a reply. When she did speak, it was humbly, or should I say, wistfully.
“Yes, Mr. Black.”
“I am afraid he never will hear from Oliver. The boy gave us the slip in the most remarkable manner. I will tell you when we get inside.”
She led him up the walk. She moved slowly, and he felt the influence of her discouragement. But once in the lighted parlour, she turned upon him the face he knew best—the mother face.
“Did Reuther see him?” she asked.
Then he told her the whole story.
When she had heard him through, she looked about the room they were in, with a lingering, abstracted gaze he hardly understood till he saw it fall with an indescribable aspect of sorrow upon a picture which had lately been found and rehung upon the wall. It was a portrait of Oliver’s mother.
“I am disappointed,” she murmured in bitter reflection to herself. “I did not expect Oliver to clear himself, but I did expect him to face his accusers if only for his father’s sake. What am I to say now to the judge?”
“Nothing to-night. In the morning we will talk the whole subject over. I must first explain myself to Andrews, and, if possible, learn his intentions; then I shall know better what to advise.”