“Oh!” she protested, with a pleading glance his way, “I’m not half done.”
“There’s another day to follow,” he dryly remarked, rising and taking a key from his pocket.
The act expressed his wishes; and she was proceeding to carry out her things when a quick sliding noise from the wall she was passing, drew her attention and caused her to spring forward in an involuntary effort to catch a picture which had slipped its cord and was falling to the floor.
A shout from the judge of “Stand aside, let me come!” reached her too late. She had grasped and lifted the picture and seen—
But first, let me explain. This picture was not like the others hanging about. It was a veiled one. From some motive of precaution or characteristic desire for concealment on the part of the judge, it had been closely wrapped about in heavy brown paper before being hung, and in the encounter which ensued between the falling picture and the spear of an image standing on a table underneath, this paper had received a slit through which Deborah had been given a glimpse of the canvas beneath.
The shock of what she saw would have unnerved a less courageous woman.
It was A highly finished portrait of Oliver in his youth, with A broad band of black painted directly across the eyes.
In recalling this startling moment, Deborah wondered as much at her own aplomb as at that of Judge Ostrander. Not only had she succeeded in suppressing all recognition of what had thus been discovered to her, but had carried her powers of self-repression so far as to offer, and with good grace too, to assist him in rehanging the picture. This perfection of acting had its full reward. With equal composure he excused her from the task, and, adding some expression of regret at his well-known carelessness in not looking better after his effects, bowed her from the room with only a slight increase of his usual courteous reserve.
But later, when thought came and with it a certain recollections, what significance the incident acquired in her mind, and what a long line of terrors it brought in its train!
It was no casual act, this defacing of a son’s well-loved features. It had a meaning—a dark and desperate meaning. Nor was the study-wall the natural home of this picture. An unfaded square which she had noted on the wall-paper of the inner room showed where its original place had been. There in full view of the broken-hearted father when he woke and in darksome watchfulness while he slept, it had played its heavy part in his long torment— a galling reminder of—what?