“Oh, mamma, it’s not of his cases our judge is thinking when he walks like that. I know him too well, love him too well, not to feel the trouble in his step. I may be wrong, but all the sympathy and understanding I may not give to Oliver I devote to his father, and when he walks like that he seems to drag my heart after him. Mamma, mamma, do not blame me. I have just as much affection for you, and I suffer just as keenly when I see you unhappy. And, mamma, are you sure that you are quite happy to-day? You look as if something had happened to trouble you—something more than usual, I mean.”
They were sitting in the dark, with just the light of the stars shining through the upper panes of the one unshaded window. Deborah, therefore, had little to fear from her daughter’s eye, only from the sensitiveness of her touch and the quickness of her ear. Alas, in this delicately organised girl these were both attuned to the nicest discrimination, and before the mother could speak, Reuther had started up, crying:
“Oh, how your heart beats! Something has happened, darling mother; something which—”
“Hush, Reuther; it is only this: When I came to Shelby it was with a hope that I might some day smooth the way to your happiness. But it was only a wild dream, Reuther; and the hour has come for me to tell you so. What joys are left us must come in other ways; love unblessed must be put aside resolutely and forever.”
She felt the shudder pass through the slender form which had thrown itself again at her side; but when the young girl spoke it was with unexpected bravery and calm.
“I have long ago done that, mamma. I’ve had no hopes from the first. The look with which Oliver accepted my refusal to go on with the ceremony was one of gratitude, mother. I can never forget that. Relief struggled with grief. Would you have me cherish any further illusions after that?”
Mrs. Scoville was silent. So, after all, Reuther had not been so blind on that day as she had always feared.
“Oliver has faults—Oh, let me talk about him just for once, darling mother,” the poor, stricken child babbled on. “His temper is violent, or so he has often told me, coming and going like a gust of—No, mamma, don’t make me stop. If he has faults he has good traits too. He was always gentle with me and if that far-away look you did not like would come at times and take him, as it were, out of our world, such a sweet awakening would follow when he realised that I was waiting for his spirit to come back, that I never minded the mystery, in my joy at the comfort which my love gave him.”
“My child, my child!”
“Mother, I can soothe the father, but I can no longer soothe Oliver. That is my saddest thought. It makes me wish, sometimes, that he would find another loving heart on which he could lean without any self-reproach. I should soon learn to bear it. It would so assure his future and rid me of the fear that he may fail to hold the place he has won by such hard work and persistence.”