She had rather have died, nay, have had Reuther die than to find herself forced to weigh and decide so momentous a question.
For, however she might feel about it, not a single illusion remained as to whose hand had made use of John Scoville’s stick to strike down Algernon Etheridge. How could she have when she came to piece the whole story together, and weigh the facts she had accumulated against Oliver with those which had proved so fatal to her husband.
First: the uncontrolled temper of the lad, hints of which she was daily receiving.
Secondly: his absolute, if unreasonable, hatred of the man thus brutally assailed. She knew what such hatred was and how it eats into an undeveloped mind. She had gone through its agonies herself when she was a young girl, and knew its every stage. With jealousy and personal distaste for a start, it was easy to trace the revolt of this boyish heart from the intrusive, ever present mentor who not only shared his father’s affections but made use of them to influence that father against the career he had chosen, in favour of one he not only disliked but for which he lacked all aptitude.
She saw it all from the moment his pencil dug into the paper these tell-tale words: I hate old E to that awful and final one when the detested student fell in the woods and his reign over the judgment, as well as over the heart, of Judge Ostrander was at an end.
In hate, bitter, boiling, long-repressed hate, was found the motive for an act so out of harmony with the condition and upbringing of a lad like Oliver. She need look for no other.
But motive goes for little if not supported by evidence. Was it possible, with this new theory for a basis, to reconstruct the story of this crime without encountering the contradiction of some well-known fact?
She would see.
First, this matter of the bludgeon left, as her husband declared, leaning against the old oak in the bottom of the ravine. All knew the tree and just where it stood. If Oliver, in his eagerness to head off Etheridge at the bridge, had rushed straight down into the gully from Ostrander Lane, he would almost strike this tree in his descent. The diagram sketched on page 185 [Proofreaders Note: Illustration removed] will make this plain. What more natural, then, than for him to catch up the stick he saw there, even if his mind had not been deliberately set on violence. A weapon is a weapon; and an angry man feels easier with something of the kind in hand.