This was a welcome circumstance to the lawyer. His task promised to be hard enough at the best. Black night had not offered too dark a screen between him and the man thus suddenly called upon to face suspicions the very shadow of which is enough to destroy a life. The hardy lawyer shrunk from uttering the words which would make the gulf imaginatively opening between them a real, if not impassable, one. Something about the young man appealed to him— something apart from his relationship to the judge—something inherent in himself. Perhaps it was the misery he betrayed. Perhaps it was the memory of Reuther’s faith in him and how that faith must suffer when she saw him next. Instantaneous reflections; but epoch-making in a mind like his. Alanson Black had never hesitated before in the face of any duty, and it robbed him of confidence. But he gave no proof of this in voice or manner, as pacing the floor in alternate approach and retreat, he finally addressed the motionless figure he could no longer ignore.
“You want to know what has happened here? If you mean lately, I shall have to explain that anything which has lately occurred to distress your father or make your presence here desirable, has its birth in events which date back to days when this was your home and the bond between yourself and father the usual and natural one.”
Silence in that shadowy corner! But this the speaker had expected, and must have exacted even if Oliver had shown the least intention of speaking.
“A man was killed here in those old days—pardon me if I am too abrupt—and another man was executed for this crime. You were a boy—but you must remember.”
Again he paused; but no more in expectation of or desire for an answer than before. One must breathe between the blows he inflicts, even if one is a lawyer.
“That was twelve years ago. Not so long a time as has elapsed since you met a waif of the streets and chastised him for some petty annoyance. But both events, the great and the little, have been well remembered here in Shelby; and when Mrs. Scoville came amongst us a month or so ago, with her late but substantial proofs of her husband’s innocence in the matter of Etheridge’s death, there came to her aid a man, who not only remembered the beating he had received as a child, but certain facts which led him to denounce by name, the party destined to bear at this late day the onus of the crime heretofore ascribed to Scoville. That name he wrote on bridges and walls; and one day, when your father left the courthouse, a mob followed him, shouting loud words which I will not repeat, but which you must understand were such as must be met and answered when the man so assailed is Judge Ostrander. Have I said enough? If so, raise your hand and I will desist for to-night.”
But no movement took place in the shadow cast by Oliver’s figure on the wall before which Mr. Black had paused, and presently, a voice was heard from where he sat, saying: