Oliver moved. The moisture sprang to his eyes as he did so. He had caught a glimpse of the face on the pillow and the changes made in a week were very apparent. Always erect, his father had towered above them then even in his self-abasement, but he looked now as though twenty years, instead of a few days, had passed over his stately head and bowed his incomparable figure. And not that alone. His expression was different. Had Oliver not seen him in his old likeness for that one terrible half-hour, he would not know these features, so sunken, yet so eloquent with the peace of one for whom all struggle is over, and the haven of his long rest near.
The heart, which had held unflinchingly to its task through every stress of self-torture, succumbed under the relief of confession, and as he himself had said, there was but little time left him to fill his eyes and heart with the sight of this strong man who had replaced his boy Oliver.
He had hungered so for his presence even in those days of final shrinking and dismay. And now, the doubts, the dread, the inexpressible humiliation are all in the past and there remains only this,—to feast his eyes where his heart has so long feasted, and to thank God for the blessedness of a speedy going, which has taken the sword from the hand of Justice and saved Oliver the anguished sight of a father’s public humiliation.
Had he been able at this moment to look beyond the fences which his fear had reared, he would have seen at either gate a silent figure guarding the walk, and recalled, perhaps, the horror of other days when at the contemplation of such a prospect, his spirit recoiled upon itself in unimaginable horror and revolt. And yet, who knows! Life’s passions fade when the heart is at peace. And Archibald Ostrander’s heart was at peace. Why, his next words will show.
“Oliver”—his voice was low but very distinct, “never have a secret; never hide within your bosom a thought you fear the world to know. If you’ve done wrong—if you have disobeyed the law either of God or man—seek not to hide what can never be hidden so long as God reigns or men make laws. I have suffered, as few men have suffered and kept their reason intact. Now that my wickedness is known, the whole page of my life defaced, content has come again. I am no longer a deceiver, my very worst is known.”
“Oliver?”—This some minutes later. “Are we alone?”
“Quite alone, father. Mrs. Scoville is busy and Reuther—Reuther is in the room above. I can hear her light step overhead.”
The judge was silent. He was gazing wistfully at the wall where hung the portrait of his young wife. He was no longer in his own room, but in the cheery front parlour. This Deborah had insisted upon. There was, therefore, nothing to distract him from the contemplation I have mentioned.
“There are things I want to say to you. Not many; you already know my story. But I do not know yours, and I cannot die till I do. What took you into the ravine that evening, Oliver, and why, having picked up the stick, did you fling it from you and fly back to the highway? For the reason I ascribed to Scoville? Tell me, that no cloud may remain between us. Let me know your heart as well as you now know mine.”