15. The Picture
NIGHT! and Deborah Scoville waiting anxiously for Reuther to sleep, that she
might brood undisturbed over a new and disturbing event which for the whole day
had shaken her out of her wonted poise, and given, as it were, a new phase to
her life in this house.
Already had she stepped several times to her daughter's room and looked in,
only to meet Reuther's unquiet eye turned towards hers in silent inquiry. Was her
own uneasiness infectious? Was the child determined to share her vigil? She
would wait a little longer this time and see.
Their rooms were over the parlour and thus as far removed as possible from the
judge's den. In her own, which was front, she felt at perfect ease, and it was
without any fear of disturbing either him or Reuther that she finally raised her
window and allowed the cool wind to soothe her heated cheeks.
How calm the aspect of the lawn and its clustering shrubs. Dimly seen though
they were through the leaves of the vines she had but partially clipped, she felt
the element of peace which comes with perfect quiet, and was fain to forget for
awhile the terrors it so frequently conceals. The moon, which had been invisible
up to this moment, emerged from skurrying clouds as she quietly watched the
scene; and in an instant her peace was gone and all the thronging difficulties of
her position came rushing back upon her in full force, as all the details of the
scene, so mercifully hidden just now, flashed again upon her vision.
Perched, as she was, in a window overlooking the lane, she had but to lift her
eyes from the double fence (that symbol of sad seclusion) to light on the trees
rising above that unspeakable ravine, black with memories she felt strangely like
forgetting to- night. Beyond ... how it stood out on the bluff! it had never seemed
to stand out more threateningly! ... the bifurcated mass of dismal ruin from which
men had turned their eyes these many years now! But the moon loved it;
caressed it; dallied with it, lighting up its toppling chimney and empty, staring
gable. There, where the black streak could be seen, she had stood with the judge
in that struggle of wills which had left its scars upon them both to this very day.
There, hidden but always seen by those who remembered the traditions of the
place, mouldered away the walls of that old closet where the timorous, God-
stricken suicide had breathed out his soul. She had stood in it only the other day,
penned from outsiders' view by the judge's outstretched arms. Then, she had no
mind for bygone horrors, her own tragedy weighed too heavily upon her; but to-
night, as she gazed, fascinated, anxious to forget herself, anxious to indulge in
any thought which would relieve her from dwelling on the question she must
settle before she slept, she allowed her wonder and her revulsion to have free
course. Instead of ignoring, she would recall the story of the place as it had been
told her when she first came to settle in its neighbourhood.
Spencer's Folly! Well, it had been that, and Spencer's den of dissipation too!
There were great tales--but it was not of these she was thinking, but of the night
of storm--(of the greatest storm of which any record remained in Shelby) when
the wind tore down branches and toppled down chimneys; when cattle were