13. A Bit Of Steel
"When are you going to Judge Ostrander's?"
"To-morrow. This is my last free day. So if there is anything for me to do, do tell
me, Mr. Black, and let me get to work at once."
"There is nothing you can do. The matter is hopeless."
"You think so?"
There was misery in the tone, but the seasoned old lawyer, who had conducted
her husband's defence, did not allow his sympathies to run away with his
"I certainly do, madam. I told you so the other night, and now, after a couple of
days of thought on the subject, I am obliged to repeat my assertion. Your own
convictions in the matter, and your story of the shadow and the peaked cap may
appeal to the public and assure you some sympathy, but for an entire reversal of
its opinion you will need substantial and incontrovertible evidence. You must
remember--you will pardon my frankness--that your husband's character failed to
stand the test of inquiry. His principles were slack, his temper violent. You have
suffered from both and must know. A poor foundation I found it for his defence;
and a poor one you will find it for that reversal of public opinion upon which you
count, without very strong proof that the crime for which he was punished was
committed by another man. You think you have such proof, but it is meagre, very
meagre. Find me something definite to go upon and we will talk."
"Discouragement; discouragement everywhere," she complained. "Yet I know
John to have been innocent of this crime."
The lawyer raised his brows, and toyed impatiently with his watch- chain. If her
convictions found any echo in his own mind, he gave no evidence of it. Doubtfully
she eyed him.
"What you want," she observed at length, with a sigh, "is the name of the man
who sauntered down the ravine ahead of my husband. I cannot give it to you
now, but I do not despair of learning it."
"Twelve years ago, madam; twelve years ago."
"I know; but I have too much confidence in my cause to be daunted even by so
serious an obstacle as that. I shall yet put my finger on this man. But I do not say
that it will be immediately. I have got to renew old acquaintances; revive old
gossip; possibly, recall to life almost obliterated memories."
Mr. Black, dropping his hand from his vest, gave her his first look of unqualified
"You ring true," said he. "I have met men qualified to lead a Forlorn Hope; but
never before a woman. Allow me to express my regret that it is such a forlorn
one." Then, with a twinkle in his eye which bespoke a lighter mood, he remarked
in a curiously casual tone.
"Talking of gossip, there is but one person in town who is a complete repository
of all that is said or known this side of Colchester." (The next town.) "I never
knew her to forget anything; and I never knew her to be very far from the truth.
She lives near Judge Ostrander--a quaint little body, not uninteresting to talk to; a