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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Hollow Of Her Hand - Chapter 13. Mr. Wrandall Perjures Himself
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The Hollow Of Her Hand - Chapter 13. Mr. Wrandall Perjures Himself Post by :catalin Category :Long Stories Author :George Barr Mccutcheon Date :May 2012 Read :2389

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The Hollow Of Her Hand - Chapter 13. Mr. Wrandall Perjures Himself

CHAPTER XIII. MR. WRANDALL PERJURES HIMSELF

Smith arrived at eleven, somewhat after the fashion of the Hawkshaws of "yellow back" fame, who, if our memory serves us right, were so punctual that their appearance anywhere was described as being in the "nick o' time," only in this instance he was expected and did not "drop from the sky," as the saying goes.

Mr. Wrandall met him at the station and escorted him in a roundabout way to Southlook, carefully avoiding the main village thoroughfare and High street, where the fashionable colony was intrenched. Mr. Smith, being an experienced detective, was not surprised to find (after the introduction), that Mr. Wrandall's attorney had been a fellow-passenger from town. If he was impressed, he did not once betray the fact during the four mile spin to Sara's. On the contrary, he seemed to be entirely absorbed in the scenery.

Mr. Wrandall had said, without shaking hands: "We will repair at once to Mrs. Challis Wrandall's house, Mr. Smith. She is expecting you. I have informed her of your mission."

"I think we'd better discuss the matter between ourselves, Mr. Wrandall, before putting it up to--"

"There is nothing in connection with this unhappy affair, sir, that cannot be discussed first-hand with her," said his employer stiffly.

"Just as you like, sir," said Smith indifferently. "I have talked it over with old man Carroll. He understands."

"I am quite sure he does, Mr. Smith," said the other, with emphasis. Mr. Smith successfully hid a smile.

He took his seat beside the chauffeur.

"I am surprised," he observed to the driver, as a "feeler," "that you haven't changed bodies."

"Mr. Wrandall ordered the limousine, sir," said the chauffeur.

"Oh, I see. Keeps it on hand for rainy days, I suppose."

"It's Mrs. Wrandall's idea," explained the man. "Women are fussy about their hair. We always have a limousine handy."

"It is a handy thing to have about," said Mr. Smith drily, as he looked out of the corner of his eye and remarked the two men behind him. They were in very close conversation.

"The boss usually takes the other car. He likes the wind in his face, he says. I don't know why he ordered the limousine to-day."

"Probably there's something in the wind to-day he doesn't like," remarked Smith, after which he devoted himself assiduously to the road ahead, not being a practiced motorist.

As they were ascending the steps in Sara's exotic garden, Smith ventured a somewhat sinister remark.

"These steps are not good for a man with a weak heart, Mr. Wrandall. I hope yours is sound."

"Quite, Mr. Smith. Have no fear," said Mr. Wrandall, with an acute sense of divination. "You will also find it to be in the right place."

"Umph," said Mr. Smith.

Sara did not keep them waiting long in the morning room. She came in soon after they were announced, followed by Mr. Carroll, who had spent the night at Southlook. Hetty Castleton was not in evidence.

She motioned them to seats after Mr. Wrandall had ceremoniously introduced his lawyer, and as unceremoniously neglected to do as much for Smith.

"This is Mr. Smith, I presume," said she, with a slight uplifting of her eyebrows. She took a chair facing the detective.

"Yes, my dear," said her father-in-law. "Joseph Smith."

"Benjamin, if you please," corrected Mr. Smith.

"I regret to state that my memory for names does not go back to the Old Testament," said Wrandall, with a frosty smile.

"There are no Smiths in the Old Testament," said the detective grimly.

"I understand, Mr. Smith, that you are prepared to charge me with the murder of my husband."

She said it very quietly, very levelly. Smith was a bit staggered.

"Well, I--er--hardly that, Mrs. Wrandall," he said, disconcerted.

"Will you be good enough to come to the point at once?"

"My report in this matter, madam, is to be made to Mr. Wrandall here, as I understand it," said the detective, his jaw stiffening. "We don't, as a rule, report our findings to--well, to the person we suspect. It isn't what you'd call regular. Mr, Wrandall has employed me to make the investigation. He can hardly expect me to reveal my findings to you."

"My dear Sara--" began Mr. Wrandall.

"As this is a rather intimate conference, Mr. Smith," interrupted Sara, with a gracious smile for her father-in-law, "I fancy we have nothing to gain, one way or another, by recriminations. You have already consulted Mr. Carroll, and I have talked it over with Mr. Wrandall. That was to have been expected, I believe. As I understand the situation, you are somewhat curious to know just how much it is worth to me to have the matter dropped."

Smith eyed her steadily.

"That is the case, precisely," he said briefly.

"Then you are not really interested in having the guilty person brought to justice?"

"I am not an officer of the law, madam. I am a private individual, working for private ends. It is for Mr. Wrandall to say whether my discoveries shall be related in court. I respectfully submit that I am acting within my rights. My deductions have been formed. That is as far as I can go without his authority. He has offered a reward, and he has gone farther than that by engaging us to devote our time, brains and energies to the case. I am in this position at present: our firm cannot accept the reward he has offered without deliberately declaring to the world that we can put our hand on the slayer of his son. As I cannot produce the actual proof that we have found that person, I am in honour compelled to submit our findings so far as they have gone, and then either to withdraw from the matter or carry it on to the end, as he may elect. Our time is worth something, madam. We have made a careful and exhaustive investigation. We have come to the point where we can go no farther without more or less publicly associating you with our theories. I spoke to Mr. Carroll yesterday, it is true, and I am here to-day to lay my facts before Mr. Wrandall--and his attorney, I see. Mr. Carroll chose to call me a blackmailer. He may be correct in his legal way of looking at it. But he is wrong in assuming that MY motives are criminal. I submit that they are fair, open and above board."

There was a moment's silence following this astonishingly succinct summing up of his position. The three men had not taken their eyes from his shrewd, frank face during that clever speech. They had nothing to say. It had been agreed among them that Sara was to do the talking. They were to do the watching.

"You put the case very fairly, Mr. Smith," said she seriously. "I think your position is clear enough, assuming of course that you have any real evidence to support your theories, whatever they may be. I am perfectly free to say that you interest me."

"Interest you?" he said, in some exasperation. He had expected her to fly into a passion. "Don't you take me seriously, madam?"

"As far as you have gone, yes."

Mr. Wrandall could hold in no longer. He was most uncomfortable.

"See here, Smith, out with it. Let us have your story. My daughter-in-law is not in the least alarmed. You've been on the wrong track, of course. But that isn't the point. What we want now is to find out just where we stand."

"You put it in a rather compromising way, Mr. Wrandall. The pronoun 'we' is somewhat general, if you will permit me to say so. Do you expect me to discuss my findings in the presence of Mrs. Wrandall and her counsel?"

"Certainly, sir, certainly. You need have no hesitancy on that score. I dare say you came here knowing that what you were to say would go no further than these four walls."

"Would you say that, sir, if I were to submit proof that would make it look so black for Mrs. Wrandall that you couldn't very well doubt her complicity in the crime, even though you saw fit to let it go no further than these four walls?"

Mr. Wrandall hesitated. A heavy frown appeared between his eyes; his fingers worked nervously on the arm of the chair.

"I may say to you, Mr. Smith, that if you produce conclusive proof I shall do my duty as a law-respecting citizen. I would not hesitate on that score."

Sara looked at him through half-closed lids. His jaws were firmly set.

Smith seemed to be reflecting. He did not speak for a long interval.

"In the first place, it struck me as odd that the man's wife did not take more interest in the search that was made immediately after the kill--after the tragedy. Not only that, but it is of record that she deliberately informed the police that she didn't care whether they caught the guilty party or not. Isn't that true?"

The question was directed to no one in particular.

It was Sara who answered.

"Quite true, Mr. Smith. And if it will interest you in the least, I repeat that I don't care even now."

"You were asked if you would offer a reward in addition to the small one announced by the authorities. Why didn't you offer a reward?"

"Because I did not care to make it an object for well-meaning detectives to pry into the affairs of indiscreet members of society," she said.

"I see," said he reflectively. "May I be so bold as to ask why you don't want to have the guilty punished?"

She looked at Mr. Wrandall before offering a reply to this direct question.

"I can't answer that question without publicly wounding Mr. Wrandall."

"We understand each other, Sara," said the old man painfully. "I think you would better answer his question."

"Because my husband courted the fate that befell him, Mr. Smith. That is my reply. While I do not know what actually transpired at the inn, I am reasonably certain that my husband's life was taken by some one who had suffered at his hands. I can say no more."

"The eye for an eye principle, eh?" There was deep sarcasm in the way he said it. As she did not respond to the challenge, he abruptly changed tactics. "Where were you on the night of the murder, Mrs. Wrandall?"

She smiled. "I thought you knew, Mr. Smith."

"I have reason to believe that you were at Burton's Inn," he said bluntly.

"But you wouldn't be at all sure about it if I said I wasn't there, would you, Mr. Smith?"

"I don't quite get you, Mrs. Wrandall."

"I mean to say, if I made it worth your while to change your opinion," she said flatly.

He cleared his throat. "You couldn't change my opinion, so there's an end to that. You could stop me right where I am, if that's what you mean. I'm perfectly frank about it, gentlemen. You needn't look as if you'd like to kill me. I'm not anxious to go on with the investigation. I don't know enough up to date to be sure of a conviction, but I guess I could get the proof if it is to be found. This is a family affair, I take it. Mr. Wrandall here doesn't want to--"

Mr. Wrandall struck the arm of his chair a violent blow with his clenched fist.

"You have no authority, sir, to make such a statement!" he exclaimed. "I want it distinctly understood that I would give half of what I possess to have the slayer of my son brought to justice."

"But you don't want this thing to go any further so far as Mrs. Challis Wrandall is concerned," said Smith coolly.

"Of course not, you miserable scoundrel!" cried the other in a rage. "She's no more guilty than I am."

"Don't call names, Mr. Wrandall," said Smith, a steely glitter in his eyes. "I am prepared to lay before you certain facts that I have unravelled, but I am not willing to give them to Mrs. Wrandall."

"My daughter-in-law spent the night at her own apartment, waiting for my son," said Wrandall, regaining control of himself. "That is positively known to me, sir. Positively!"

"How can you be sure of that, Mr. Wrandall?" asked Smith sharply.

The gaunt old face, suddenly very much older than it had been before, took on a stern, defiant expression.

"I spoke with her over the telephone at half past nine o'clock that night," said he steadily.

Smith was not the only one to be surprised by this startling declaration. Sara Wrandall's eyes widened ever so slightly, and one might have detected a sharp catch in her breath.

"She called you up?" asked Smith, after a moment to collect his wits.

Mr. Wrandall was not to be trapped. He had made up his mind to lie for Sara in this hour of need, and he had considered well his methods.

"No. I called up the apartment."

"How did you know she was at her apartment?"

"I did not know it. I called up to speak with my son. She answered the call, Mr. Smith."

He arose from the chair. Smith also came slowly to his feet, the look of astonishment still on his face.

"And now, sir," went on the old man, levelling a bony finger at him, "I think we can dispense with your services. I will give you credit for one thing: you are plain-spoken and above board. You want money and you don't beat about the bush. If you will instruct your office to send to me a bill for services, I will pay it. I engaged you, and I am ready to pay for my stupidity. My car will take you back to the station."

Smith picked up his hat and fumbled with it for a moment, plainly dismayed.

"If I have been on the wrong lead, Mr. Wrandall, I am willing to drop it and start all over again. I suppose your reward still stands. I am sure we can--"

"It does not stand, sir. I shall withdraw it this very day. God knows if I had thought it would lead us to this pass, it should never have been offered. Now, go, sir."

Smith held his ground doggedly. "There are a few points I'd like to--"

"No!"

"For the sake of justice and--"

Sara interrupted the man. She had crossed to Mr. Wrandall's side, a queer light in her eyes. Her hand fell upon his trembling old arm and he felt a thrill pass from her warm, strong fingers into the very core of his body.

"Mr. Smith, will you give me an off-hand estimate of what your services amount to in dollars and cents up to date?"

"You don't owe me anything, Mrs. Wrandall," said Smith, flushing a dull red.

"You came here to give me a chance, Mr. Smith, feeling that I was actually implicated. You had a price fixed in your mind. You still have your doubts, in spite of what Mr. Wrandall says. It occurred to you that it would be worth considerable to me if the investigation went no farther. You realised that you could not have brought this crime home to me, because you could not have found REAL, satisfying evidence. But you could have gone to the newspapers with your suspicions, and you could have made one-half the world believe that an innocent person was guilty of a foul crime. The world loves its sensations. It would have gloated over the little you could have given it, and it would have damned me unheard. I owe you something for sparing me a fate so wretched as that. Your price: What is it?"

"Sara!" cried Mr. Wrandall, aghast.

"My dear Mrs. Wrandall," cried Carroll, blinking his eyes, "you are not thinking of--"

"I am thinking of paying Mr. Smith his price," said Sara calmly.

"Why, damn it all," roared Carroll, "you countenance his ridiculous assertions--"

"No; I do nothing of the sort, Mr. Carroll, and Mr. Smith knows it quite as well as you do. He still has it in his power to set the tongues to wagging. We can't get around that, gentlemen. I want to pay him to drop the case entirely. The reward has been withdrawn. Will it satisfy your cupidity, Mr. Smith, if I agree to pay to you a like amount?"

"Good Lord!" gasped Smith, staggered.

"I cannot permit--" began Mr. Wrandall.

She looked him squarely in the eye and the words died on his lips.

"I prefer to have it my way," she said. "I will not accept favours from Mr. Smith--nor any other man." Wrandall alone caught the significance of the last four words. She would not accept the favour of a lie from him! And yet she would not humiliate by denying him in the presence of others. "Mr. Carroll will attend to this matter for me, Mr. Smith, if you will call at his office at your convenience. I shall make but a single stipulation in addition to the one involved: you are to drop the case altogether. Mr. Wrandall has already dismissed you. You are under no further obligations to him or his family. I respectfully submit to all of you, gentlemen, that when the investigations go so far astray as they have gone in this instance, it isn't safe to let them continue with the possible chance of proving unwholesome to other innocent persons, toward whom, in some justice, attention might be drawn. The young woman now in the far West is a sickening example. I refer to the Ashtley girl. If, by any chance, the right person should be taken, I will do my part, Mr. Wrandall, with the same purpose if not the same spirit that actuates you, but I am opposed to baring skeletons to gratify the morbid curiosity of a public that despises all of us because, unhappily, we are what we are. I trust I make myself plain to you. I loved my husband. I have no desire to know the names of women who were his--we will say--who were in love with him."

Mr. Wrandall bowed his head and said not a word. His attorney, who had been a silent listener from the beginning, spoke for the first time.

"If Mr. Smith will call at my office to-morrow, I will attend to the closing of this matter to his entire satisfaction. Mr. Wrandall has already authorised me to settle in full for his time and--patience."

"I don't like to take money in this way--"

"We won't discuss ethics, Mr. Smith."

"Just as you like, then. I'm only too happy to be off the job. Good morning, madam. Good morning, gentlemen."

He stalked from the room. Watson was waiting in the hall.

"This way," he said, indicating the big front door.

Smith grinned sheepishly. "'Gad, they don't even think I can find a front door," he said.

Redmond Wrandall turned to the two men after he heard the door of his automobile slam in the porte-cochere.

"Gentlemen, I believe it is unnecessary to announce to you that I did not speak over the telephone with my daughter-in-law on that wretched night," he said slowly.

They nodded their heads.

"I am not a good liar. Do you think the fellow believed me?"

"No," said Sara instantly. "He is accustomed to better lying than you can supply. But it doesn't in the least matter. He knows, however, that you spoke the truth when you said I was in my apartment, even though you are not sure of it yourself, Mr. Wrandall. I will not presume to thank you for what you did, but I shall never forget it, sir."

He regarded her rather austerely for a moment. "I am glad you do not thank me, Sara," he said. "You are not to feel that you are under the slightest obligation to me."

"I regret that you felt it necessary to perjure yourself," she said levelly, and then broke into a soft little laugh as she laid her hand on his arm once more. "Come! Let us have a semi-public view of Hetty's portrait."

He looked up alertly at the mention of the girl's name.

"By the way, where is Miss Castleton?" he asked, drawing a long breath as if the air had suddenly become wholesome.

"She is back yonder in the living-room, having her last sitting to Brandon Booth. Just a few finishing touches, that's all. I hear them laughing. The day's work is done."

She led the way down the long hall, followed by the old gentlemen, who came three abreast, hoary retainers at the heels of youth.

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