And so with each new arrival. He neither turned nor moved at any one’s entrance, but left it to Mr. Black to do the honours and make the best of a situation, difficult, if not inexplicable to all of them. Nor could it be seen that any of these men—city officials, prominent citizens and old friends, recognised his figure or suspected his identity. Beyond a passing glance his way, they betrayed neither curiosity nor interest, being probably sufficiently occupied in accounting for their own presence in the home of their once revered and now greatly maligned compeer. Judge Ostrander, attacked through his son, was about to say or do something which each and every one of them secretly thought had better be left unsaid or undone. Yet none showed any disposition to leave the place; and when, after a short, uneasy pause during which all attempts at conversation failed, they heard a slow and weighty step approaching through the hall, the suspense was such that no one but Mr. Black noticed the quick whirl with which Oliver turned himself about, nor the look of mortal anguish with which he awaited the opening of the door and his father’s entrance among them. No one noticed, I say, until, simultaneously with the appearance of Judge Ostrander on the threshold, a loud cry swept through the room of “Don’t! don’t!” and the man they had barely noticed, flashed by them all, and fell at the judge’s feet with a smothered repetition of his appeal: “Don’t, father, don’t!”
Then, each man knew why he had been summoned there, and knowing, gazed earnestly at these two faces. Twelve years of unappeased longing, of smothered love, rising above doubts, persisting in spite of doubts, were concentrated into that one instant of mutual recognition. The eye of the father was upon that of the son and that of the son upon that of the father and for them, at least in this first instant of reunion, the years were forgotten and sin, sorrow and on-coming doom effaced from their mutual consciousness.
Then the tide of life flowed back into the present, and the judge, motioning to his son to rise, observed very distinctly:
“Don’t is an ambiguous word, my son, and on your lips, at this juncture, may mislead those whom I have called here to hear the truth from us and the truth only. You have heard what happened here a few days ago. How a long-guarded, long-suppressed suspicion—so guarded and so suppressed that I had no intimation of its existence even, found vent at a moment of public indignation, and I heard you, you, Oliver Ostrander, accused to my face of having in some boyish fit of rage struck down the man for whose death another has long since paid the penalty. This you have already been told.”
“Yes.” The word cut sharply through the silence; but the fire with which the young man rose and faced them all showed him at his best. “But surely, no person present believes it. No one can who knows you and the principles in which I have been raised. This fellow whom I beat as a boy has waited long to start this damnable report. Surely he will get no hearing from unprejudiced and intelligent men.”