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33. The Curtain Lifted
Ten o'clock! and one of the five listed to be present had arrived- -the rector of the
church which the Ostranders had formerly attended.
He was ushered into the parlour by Deborah, where he found himself received
not by the judge in whose name he had been invited, but by Mr. Black, the
lawyer, who tendered him a simple good morning and pointed out a chair.
There was another person in the room,--a young man who stood in one of the
windows, gazing abstractedly out at the line of gloomy fence rising between him
and the street. He had not turned at the rector's approach, and the latter had
failed to recognise him.
And so with each new arrival. He neither turned nor moved at any one's
entrance, but left it to Mr. Black to do the honours and make the best of a
situation, difficult, if not inexplicable to all of them. Nor could it be seen that any
of these men--city officials, prominent citizens and old friends, recognised his
figure or suspected his identity. Beyond a passing glance his way, they betrayed
neither curiosity nor interest, being probably sufficiently occupied in accounting
for their own presence in the home of their once revered and now greatly
maligned compeer. Judge Ostrander, attacked through his son, was about to say
or do something which each and every one of them secretly thought had better
be left unsaid or undone. Yet none showed any disposition to leave the place;
and when, after a short, uneasy pause during which all attempts at conversation
failed, they heard a slow and weighty step approaching through the hall, the
suspense was such that no one but Mr. Black noticed the quick whirl with which
Oliver turned himself about, nor the look of mortal anguish with which he awaited
the opening of the door and his father's entrance among them. No one noticed, I
say, until, simultaneously with the appearance of Judge Ostrander on the
threshold, a loud cry swept through the room of "Don't! don't!" and the man they
had barely noticed, flashed by them all, and fell at the judge's feet with a
smothered repetition of his appeal: "Don't, father, don't!"
Then, each man knew why he had been summoned there, and knowing, gazed
earnestly at these two faces. Twelve years of unappeased longing, of smothered
love, rising above doubts, persisting in spite of doubts, were concentrated into
that one instant of mutual recognition. The eye of the father was upon that of the
son and that of the son upon that of the father and for them, at least in this first
instant of reunion, the years were forgotten and sin, sorrow and on-coming doom
effaced from their mutual consciousness.
Then the tide of life flowed back into the present, and the judge, motioning to his
son to rise, observed very distinctly:
"DON'T is an ambiguous word, my son, and on your lips, at this juncture, may
mislead those whom I have called here to hear the truth from us and the truth
only. You have heard what happened here a few days ago. How a long-guarded,
long-suppressed suspicion--so guarded and so suppressed that I had no
intimation of its existence even, found vent at a moment of public indignation,