Judge Ostrander was, as I have certainly made you see, a recluse of the most uncompromising type; but he was such for only half his time. From ten in the morning till five in the afternoon, he came and went like any other citizen, fulfilling his judicial duties with the same scrupulous care as formerly and with more affability. Indeed, he showed at times, and often when it was least expected, a mellowness of temper quite foreign to him in his early days. The admiration awakened by his fine appearance on the bench was never marred now by those quick and rasping tones of an easily disturbed temper which had given edge to his invective when he stood as pleader in the very court where he now presided as judge. But away from the bench, once quit of the courthouse and the town, the man who attempted to accost him on his way to his carriage or sought to waylay him at his own gate, had need of all his courage to sustain the rebuff his presumption incurred.
One more detail and I will proceed with my story.
The son, a man of great ability who was making his way as a journalist in another city, had no explanation to give of his father’s peculiarities. Though he never came to Shelby—the rupture between the two, if rupture it were, seeming to be complete—there were many who had visited him in his own place of business and put such questions concerning the judge and his eccentric manner of living as must have provoked response had the young man had any response to give. But he appeared to have none. Either he was as ignorant as themselves of the causes which had led to his father’s habit of extreme isolation, or he showed powers of dissimulation hardly in accordance with the other traits of his admirable character.
All of which closed inquiry in this direction, but left the maw of curiosity unsatisfied.
And unsatisfied it had remained up to this hour, when through accident—or was it treachery—the barrier to knowledge was down and the question of years seemed at last upon the point of being answered.
Was he living?—Was he dead?
Meantime, a fussy, talkative man was endeavouring to impress the rapidly collecting crowd with the advisability of their entering all together and approaching the judge in a body.
“We can say that we felt it to be our dooty to follow this woman in,” he argued. “We don’t know who she is, or what her errand is. She may mean harm; I’ve heard of such things, and are we goin’ to see the judge in danger and do nothin’?”
“Oh, the woman’s all right,” spoke up another voice. “She has a child with her. Didn’t you say she had a child with her, Miss Weeks?”
“Tell us the whole story, Miss Weeks. Some of us haven’t heard it. Then if it seems our duty as his neighbours and well-wishers to go in, we’ll just go in.”