“Son,”—a long silence had intervened,—“there is one thing more. When—how—did you first learn my real reason for sending you from home? I saw that my position was understood by you when our eyes first met in this room. But twelve years had passed since you left this house in ignorance of all but my unnatural attitude towards you. When, Oliver, when?”
“That I cannot answer, father; it was just a conviction which dawned gradually upon me. Now, it seems as if I had known it always; but that isn’t so. A boy doesn’t reason; and it took reasoning for me to—to accept—”
“Yes, I understand. And that was your secret! Oh, Oliver, I shall never ask for your forgiveness. I am not worthy it. I only ask that you will not let pride or any other evil passion stand in the way of the happiness I see in the future for you. I cannot take from you the shame of my crime and long deception, but spare me this final sorrow! There is nothing to part you from Reuther now. Alike unhappy in your parentage, you can start on equal terms, and love will do the rest. Say that you will marry her, Oliver, and let me see her smile before I die.”
“Marry her? Oh, father, will such an angel marry me?”
“No, but such a woman might.”
Oliver came near, and stooped over his father’s bed.
“Father, if love and attention to my profession can make a success of the life you prize, they shall have their opportunity.”
The father smiled. If it fell to others to remember him as he appeared in his mysterious prime, to Oliver it was given to recall him as he looked then with the light on his face and the last tear he was ever to shed glittering in his fading eye.
“God is good,” came from the bed; then the solemnity of death settled over the room.
The soft footfalls overhead ceased. The long hush had brought the two women to the door where they stood sobbing. Oliver was on his knees beside the bed, his head buried in his arms. On the face so near him there rested a ray from the westering sun; but the glitter was gone from the eye and the unrest from the heart. No more weary vigils in a room dedicated to remorse and self-punishment. No more weary circling of the house in the dark lane whose fences barred out the hurrying figure within from every eye but that of Heaven. Peace for him; and for Reuther and Oliver, hope!