Then the People’s counsel and the counsel for the Defence and such clerks and hangers-on as still lingered in the upper end of the room experienced a decided sensation.
The judge, who a moment before had towered above them all in melancholy but impressive dignity, shrunk with one gasp into feebleness and sank back stricken, if not unconscious, into his chair.
Was it a stroke, or just one of his attacks of which all had heard? Was he aware of his own condition and the disturbance it caused or was he, on the contrary, dead to his own misery and oblivious of the rush which was made from all sides to his assistance? Even Deborah could not tell, and was forced to sit quiet in her corner, waiting for the parting of the group which hid the judge from her sight.
It happened suddenly and showed her the same figure she had seen once before—a man with faculties suspended, but not impaired, facing them all with open gaze but absolutely dead for the moment to his own condition and to the world about.
But, horrible as this was, what she saw going on behind him was infinitely worse. A man had caught up the bit of paper Judge Ostrander had let fall from his hand and was opening his lips to read it to the curious people surrounding him.
She tried to stop him. She forced a cry to her lips which should have rung through the room, but which died away on the air unheard. The terror which had paralysed her limbs had choked her voice.
But her ears remained true. Low as he spoke, no trumpet-call could have made its meaning clearer to Deborah Scoville than did these words:
“We know why you favour criminals. Twelve years is a long time, but not long enough to make wise men forget.”
BEFORE THE GATES
Had she not caught the words themselves she would have recognised their import from the blighting effect they produced upon the persons grouped within hearing.
Schooled as most of them were to face with minds secure and tempers quite unruffled the countless surprises of a court room, they paled at the insinuation conveyed in these two sentences, and with scarcely the interchange of glance or word, drew aside in a silence which no man seemed inclined to break.
As for the people still huddled in the doorway, they rushed away helter-skelter into the street, there to proclaim the judge’s condition and its probable cause;—an event which to many quite eclipsed in interest the more ordinary one which had just released to freedom a man seemingly doomed.
Few persons were now left in the great room, and Deborah, embarrassed to find that she was the only woman present, was on the point of escaping from her corner when she perceived a movement take place in the rigid form from which she had not yet withdrawn her eyes, and, regarding Judge Ostrander more attentively, she caught the gleam of his suspicious eye as it glanced this way and that to see if his lapse of consciousness had been noticed by those about him.