22. 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
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she had not yet withdrawn her eyes, and, regarding Judge Ostrander more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.
Would the man still in possession of the paper whose contents had brought
about this attack understand these evidences of apprehension? Yes; and what is
more, he seems to take such means as offers to hide from the judge all
knowledge of the fact that any other eyes than his own have read these invidious
words. With unexpected address, he waits for the judge to turn his head aside
when with a quick and dextrous movement he so launches the paper from his
hand that it falls softly and without flurry within an inch of the judicial seat. Then
he goes back to his papers.
This suggestion, at once so marked and so delicate, did not fail of its effect upon
those about. Wherever the judge looked he saw abstracted faces and busy
hands, and, taking heart at not finding himself watched, he started to rise. Then
memory came,--blasting, overwhelming memory of the letter he had been
reading; and, rousing with a start, he looked down at his hand, then at the floor
before him, and, seeing the letter lying there, picked it up with a secret, side-long
glance to right and left, which sank deep into the heart of the still watchful
If those about him saw, they made no motion. Not an eye looked round and not a
head turned as he straightened himself and proceeded to leave the room. Only
Deborah noted how his steps faltered and how little he was to be trusted to find
his way unguided to the door. It lay to the right and he was going left. Now he
stumbles--Isn't there any one to--Yes, she is not the sole one on watch. The
same man who had read aloud the note and then dropped it within his reach, had
stepped after him, and kindly, if artfully, turned him towards the proper place of
exit. As the two disappear, Deborah wakes from her trance, and, finding herself
alone among the seats, hurries to quit her corner and leave the building.