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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Hollow Of Her Hand - Chapter 15. Sara Wrandall Finds The Truth
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The Hollow Of Her Hand - Chapter 15. Sara Wrandall Finds The Truth Post by :catalin Category :Long Stories Author :George Barr Mccutcheon Date :May 2012 Read :1661

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The Hollow Of Her Hand - Chapter 15. Sara Wrandall Finds The Truth

CHAPTER XV. SARA WRANDALL FINDS THE TRUTH

Sara had kept the three Wrandalls over for luncheon.

"My dear," said Mrs. Redmond Wrandall, as she stood before Hetty's portrait at the end of the long living-room, "I must say that Brandon has succeeded in catching that lovely little something that makes her so--what shall I say?--so mysterious? Is that what I want? The word is as elusive as the expression."

"Subtle is the word you want, mother," said Vivian, standing beside Leslie, tall, slim and aristocratic, her hands behind her back, her manner one of absolute indifference. Vivian was more than handsome; she was striking.

"There isn't anything subtle about Hetty," said Sara, with a laugh. "She's quite ingenuous."

Leslie was pulling at his moustache, and frowning slightly. The sunburn on his nose and forehead had begun to peel off in chappy little flakes.

"Ripping likeness, though," was his comment.

"Oh, perfect," said his mother. "Really wonderful. It will make Brandon famous."

"She's so healthy-looking," said Vivian.

"English," remarked Leslie, as if that covered everything.

"Nonsense," cried the elder Mrs. Wrandall, lifting her lorgnette again. "Pure, honest, unmixed blood, that's what it is. There is birth in that girl's face."

"You're always talking about birth, mother," said her son sourly, as he turned away.

"It's a good thing to have," said his mother with conviction.

"It's an easy thing to get in America," said he, pulling out his cigarette case. "Have a cigarette, mother? Sara?"

"I'll take one, Les," said Vivian. She selected one and passed the case on to her mother. Sara shook her head.

"No, thanks," she said.

Mrs. Redmond Wrandall laid her cigarette down without attempting to light it, a sudden frostiness in her manner. Vivian and Leslie blew long plumes of smoke from the innermost recesses of their lungs.

"Nerves?" asked Vivian mildly.

"I don't like Leslie's brand," explained Sara.

"They're excellent, I think," said Mrs. Wrandall, and thereupon accepted a light from Leslie.

"Well, let's be off," said he, somewhat irritably. "Tell Miss Castleton we're sorry to have missed her."

It was then that Sara prevailed upon them to stop for luncheon. "She always takes these long walks in the morning, and she will be disappointed if she finds you haven't waited--"

"Oh, as for that--" began Leslie and stopped, but he could not have been more lucid if he had uttered the sentence in full.

"Why didn't you pick her up and bring her home with you?" asked Sara, as they moved off in the direction of the porch.

"She seemed to be taking Brandy out for his morning exercise," said he surlily. "Far be it from me to--Umph!"

Sara repressed the start of surprise. She thought Hetty was alone.

"She will bring him in for luncheon, I suppose," she said carelessly, although there was a slight contraction of the eyelids. "He is a privileged character."

It was long past the luncheon hour when Hetty came in, flushed and warm. She was alone and she had been walking rapidly.

"Oh, I am so sorry to be late," she apologised, darting a look of anxiety at Sara. "We grew careless with time. Am I shockingly late?"

She was shaking hands with Mrs. Redmond Wrandall as she spoke. Leslie and Vivian stood by, rigidly awaiting their turn. Neither appeared to be especially cordial.

"What is the passing of an hour, my dear," said the old lady, "to one who is young and can spare it?"

"I did not expect you--I mean to say, nothing was said about luncheon, was there, Sara?" She was in a pretty state of confusion.

"No," said Leslie, breaking in; "we butted in, that's all. How are you?" He clasped her hand and bent over it. She was regarding him with slightly dilated eyes. He misinterpreted the steady scrutiny. "Oh, it will all peel off in a day or two," he explained, going a shade redder.

"When did you return?" she asked. "I thought to-morrow was--"

"Leslie never has any to-morrows, Miss Castleton," explained Vivian. "He always does to-morrow's work to-day. That's why he never has any troubles ahead of him."

"What rot!" exclaimed Leslie.

"Where is Mr. Booth?" inquired Sara. "Wouldn't he come in, Hetty?"

"I--I didn't think to ask him to stop for luncheon," she replied, and then hurried off to her room to make herself presentable.

"Don't be long," called out Sara.

"We are starving," added Vivian.

"Vivian!" exclaimed her mother, in a shocked voice.

"Well, _I am," declared her daughter promptly.

"You know you NEVER eat anything in the middle of the day," said her mother, frowning. As Sara was paying no attention to their remarks, Mrs. Wrandall was obliged to deliver the supplemental explanation to Leslie, who hadn't the remotest interest in the matter. "She's so silly about getting fat."

Hetty was in a state of nervous excitement during the luncheon. The encounter with Booth had not resulted at all as she had fancied it would. She had betrayed herself in a most disconcerting manner, and now was more deeply involved than ever before. She had been determined at the outset, she had failed, and now he had a claim--an incontestable claim against her. She found it difficult to meet Sara's steady, questioning gaze. She wanted to be alone.

"I suppose you have heard nothing recent from poor Lord Murgatroyd," Mrs. Wrandall was saying to her, in a most sympathetic tone.

Hetty scarcely grasped the importance of the remark. She looked rather blankly at their guest.

Sara stepped into the breach. "What do the morning despatches say, Mrs. Wrandall?"

"He is sinking rapidly, I fear. Of course, his extreme age is against him. How old is he, Miss Castleton?"

"I--I haven't the remotest idea, Mrs. Wrandall," said the girl. "He is very, very old."

"Ninety-two, the Sun says," supplied Vivian.

There was an unaccountable silence.

"I suppose there is--ah--really no hope," said Mrs. Redmond Wrandall at last.

"I fear not," said Hetty composedly. "Except for the heirs-at-law."

Mrs. Wrandall sat up a little straighter in her chair. "Dear me," she said.

"They've been waiting for a good many years," commented Hetty, without emotion. "Of course, Mrs. Wrandall, you understand that I am not one of those who will profit by his death. The estate is entailed. I am quite outside the walls."

"I did not know the--ah--"

"My father may come in for a small interest. He is in England at present on furlough. But there are a great many near relatives to be fed before the bowl of plenty gets to him."

"Dear, dear!" murmured Mrs. Wrandall, quite appalled by her way of putting it. Leslie looked at her and coughed. "What a delicious dressing you have for these alligator pears, Sara," she went on, veering quickly. "You must tell me how it is made."

After luncheon, Leslie drew Sara aside.

"I must say she doesn't seem especially overjoyed to see me," he growled. "She's as cool as ice."

"What do you expect, Leslie?" she demanded with some asperity.

"I can't stand this much longer, Sara," he said. "Don't you see how things are going? She's losing her heart to Booth."

"I don't see how we can prevent it."

"By gad, I'll have another try at it--to-night. I say, has she said--anything?"

"She pities you," said she, a malicious joy in her soul. "That's akin to something else, you know."

"Confound it all, I don't want to be pitied!"

"Then I'd advise you to defer your 'try' at it," she remarked.

"I'm mad about her, Sara. I can't sleep, I can't think, I can't--yes, I CAN eat, but it doesn't taste right to me. I've just got to have it settled. Why, people are beginning to notice the change in me. They say all sorts of things. About my liver, and all that sort of thing. I'm going to settle it to-night. It's been nearly three weeks now. She's surely had time to think it over; how much better everything will be for her, and all that. She's no fool, Sara. And do you know what Vivian's doing this very instant over there in the corner? She's inviting her to spend a fortnight over at our place. If she comes,--well, that means the engagement will be announced at once."

Sara did not marvel at his assurance in the face of what had gone before. She knew him too well. In spite of the original rebuff, he was thoroughly satisfied in his own mind that Hetty Castleton would not be such a fool as to refuse him the second time.

"It is barely possible, Leslie," she said, "that she may consider Brandon Booth quite as good a catch as you, and infinitely better looking at the present moment."

"It's this beastly sunburn," he lamented, rubbing his nose gently, thinking first of his person. An instant later he was thinking of the other half of the declaration. "That's just what I've been afraid of," he said. "I told you what would happen if that portrait nonsense went on for ever. It's your fault, Sara."

"But I have reason to believe she will not accept him, if it goes so far as that. You are quite safe in that direction."

"'Gad, I'd hate to risk it," he muttered. "I have a feeling she's in love with him."

Vivian approached. "Sara, you must let me have Miss Castleton for the first two weeks in July," she said serenely.

"I can't do it, Vivian," said the other promptly. "I can't bear the thought of being alone in this big old barn of a place. Nice of you to want her, but--"

"Oh, don't be selfish, Sara," cried Vivian.

"You don't know how much I depend on her," said Sara.

"I'd ask you over, too, dear, if there weren't so many others coming. I don't know where we're going to put them. You understand, don't you?"

"Perfectly," said her sister-in-law, smiling.

"But I've been counting on--Hetty."

"I say, Sara," broke in Leslie, "you COULD go up to Bar Harbour with the Williamsons at that time. Tell her about the invitation, Vivie."

"It isn't necessary," said Sara coldly. "I scarcely know the Williamsons." She hesitated an instant and then went on with sardonic dismay: "They're in trade, you know."

"That's nothing against 'em," protested he. "Awfully jolly people--really ripping. Ain't they, Viv?"

"I don't know them well enough to say," said Vivian, turning away. "I only know we're all snobs of the worst sort."

"Just a minute, Viv," he called out. "What does Miss Castleton say about coming ?" It was an eager question. Much depended on the reply.

"I haven't asked her," said his sister succinctly. "How could I, without first consulting Sara?"

"Then, you don't intend to ask her?"

"Certainly not."

"Oh, I'll fix it up with Sara," said he confidently.

"Eh, Sara?"

"I'd suggest that you 'fix it up' with Miss Castleton," said Sara pointedly.

Vivian shot a swift glance over her shoulder at her sister-in-law, and then broke into a good-humoured laugh. She joined Hetty and Mrs. Redmond Wrandall.

"Sometimes I feel that I really like Vivian," observed Sara, as much to herself as to Leslie. "She's above the board, at least."

"Disagreeable as the devil at times, though," said he, biting his lip.

After the Wrandalls had departed, Sara took Hetty off to her room. The girl knew what was coming.

"Hetty," said the older woman, facing her after she had closed the door of her boudoir, "what is going on between you and Brandon Booth? I must have the truth. Are you doing anything foolish?"

"Foolish? Heaven help me, no! It--it is a tragedy," cried Hetty, meeting her gaze with one of utter despair.

"What has happened? Tell me!"

"What am I to do, Sara darling? He--he has told me that he--he--"

"Loves you?"

"Yes."

"And you have told him that his love is returned?"

"I couldn't help it. I was carried away. I did not mean to let him see that I--"

"You are such a novice in the business of love," said Sara sneeringly. "You are in the habit of being carried away, I fear."

"Oh, Sara!"

"You must put a stop to all this at once. How can you think of marrying him, Hetty Glynn? Send him--"

"I do not intend to marry him," said the girl, suddenly calm and dignified.

"I am to draw but one conclusion, I suppose," said the other, regarding the girl intently.

"What do you mean?"

"Is it necessary to ask that question?"

The puzzled expression remained in the girl's eyes for a time, and then slowly gave way to one of absolute horror.

"How dare you suggest such a thing?" she cried, turning pale, then crimson. "How dare you?"

Sara laughed shortly. "Isn't the inference a natural one? You are forgetting yourself."

"I understand," said the girl, through pallid lips. Her eyes were dark with pain and misery. "You think I am altogether bad." She drooped perceptibly.

"You went to Burton's Inn," sententiously.

"But, Sara, you must believe me. I did not know he was--married. For God's sake, do me the justice to--"

"But you went there with him," insisted the other, her eyes hard as steel. "It doesn't matter whether he was married--or free. You WENT."

Hetty threw herself upon her companion's breast and wound her strong young arms about her.

"Sara, Sara, you must let me explain--you must let me tell you everything. Don't stop me! You have refused to hear my plea--"

"And I still refuse!" cried Sara, throwing her off angrily. "Good God, do you think I will listen to you? If you utter another word, I will--strangle you!"

Hetty shrank back, terrified. Slowly she moved backward in the direction of the door, never taking her eyes from the impassioned face of her protector.

"Don't, Sara, please don't!" she begged. "Don't look at me like that! I promise--I promise. Forgive me! I would not give you an instant's pain for all the world. You would suffer, you would--"

Sara suddenly put her hands over her eyes. A single moan escaped her lips--a hoarse gasp of pain.

"Dearest!" cried Hetty, springing to her side.

Sara threw her head up and met her with a cold, repelling look.

"Wait!" she commanded. "The time has come when you should know what is in my mind, and has been for months and months. It concerns you. I expect you to marry Leslie Wrandall."

Hetty stopped short.

"How can you jest with me, Sara?" she cried, suddenly indignant.

"I am not jesting," said Sara levelly.

"You--you--really mean--what you have just said?" The puzzled look gave way to one of revulsion. A great shudder swept over her.

"Leslie Wrandall must pay his brother's debt to you."

"My God!" fell from the girl's stiff lips. "You--you must be going mad--mad!"

Sara laughed softly. "I have meant it almost from the beginning," she said. "It came to my mind the day that Challis was buried. It has never been out of it for an instant since that day. Now you understand."

If she expected Hetty to fall into a fit of weeping, to collapse, to plead with her for mercy, she was soon to find herself mistaken. The girl straightened up suddenly and met her gaze with one in which there was the fierce determination. Her eyes were steady, her bosom heaved.

"And I have loved you so devotedly--so blindly," she said, in low tones of scorn. "You have been hating me all these months while I thought you were loving me. What a fool I have been! I might have known. You COULDN'T love me."

"When Leslie asks you to-night to marry him, you are to say that you will do so," said Sara, betraying no sign of having heard the bitter words.

"I shall refuse, Sara," said Hetty, every vestige of colour gone from her face.

"There is an alternative," announced the other deliberately.

"You will expose me to--him? To his family?"

"I shall turn you over to them, to let them do what they will with you. If you go as his wife, the secret is safe. If not, they may have you as you really are, to destroy, to annihilate. Take your choice, my dear."

"And you, Sara?" asked the girl quietly. "What explanation will you have to offer for all these months of protection?"

Her companion stared. "Has the prospect no terror for you?"

"Not now. Not since I have found you out. The thing I have feared all along has come to pass. I am relieved, now that you show me just where I truly stand. But, I asked: what of you?"

"The world is more likely to applaud than to curse me, Hetty. It likes a new sensation. My change of heart will appear quite natural."

"Are you sure that the world will applaud your real design? You hate the Wrandalls. Will they be charitable toward you when the truth is given out? Will Leslie applaud you? Listen, please: I am trying to save you from yourself, Sara. You will fail in everything you have hoped for. You will be more accursed than I. The world will pity me, it may even forgive me. It will listen to my story, which is more than you will do, and it will believe me. Ah, I am not afraid now. At first I was in terror. I had no hope of escape. All that is past. To-day I am ready to take my chances with the big, generous world. Men will try me, and men are not made of stone and steel. They punish but they do not avenge when they sit in jury boxes. They are not women! Good God, Sara, is there a man living to-day who could have planned this thing you have cherished all these months? Not one! And all men will curse you for it, even though they send me to prison or to the--chair. But they will not condemn me. They will hear my story and they will set me free. And then, what of you?"

Sara stood perfectly rigid, regarding this earnest reasoner with growing wonder.

"My dear," she said, "you would better be thinking of yourself, not of me."

"Why, when I tell my story, the world will hate you, Sara Wrandall. You have helped me, you have been good to me, no matter what sinister motive you may have had in doing so. It is my turn to help you."

"To help me!" cried Sara, astonished in spite of herself.

"Yes. To save you from execration--and even worse."

"There is no moral wrong in marriage with Leslie Wrandall," said Sara, returning to her own project.

"No moral wrong!" cried Hetty, aghast. "No, I suppose not," she went on, a moment later. "It is something much deeper, much blacker than moral wrong. There is no word for it. And if I marry him, what then? Wherein lies your triumph? You can't mean that--God in Heaven! You would not go to them with the truth when it was too late for him to--to cast me off!"

"I am no such fool as that. The secret would be for ever safe in that event. My triumph, as you call it, we will not discuss."

"How you must hate me, to be willing to do such an infamous thing to me!"

"I do not hate you, Hetty."

"In heaven's name, what do you call it?"

"Justification. Listen to me now. I am saying this for your good sense to seize and appreciate. Would it be right in me to allow you to marry any other man, knowing all that I know? There is but one man you can in justice marry: the one who can repair the wreck that his own blood created. Not Brandon Booth, nor any man save Leslie Wrandall. He is the man who must pay."

"I do not intend to marry," said Hetty.

"But Leslie will marry some one, and I intend that it shall be you. He shall marry the ex-chorus girl, the artist's model, the--the prostitute! Wait! Don't fly at me like that! Don't assume that look of virtuous horror! Let me say what I have to say. This much of your story shall they know, and no more. They will be proud of you!"

Hetty's eyes were blazing. "You use that name--you call me THAT--and yet you have kissed me, caressed me--loved me!" she cried hoarse with passion.

"He will ask you to-night for the second time. You will accept him. That is all."

"You must take back what you have just said to me--of me,--Sara Wrandall. You must unsay it! You must beg my pardon for THAT!"

"I draw no line between mistress and prostitute."

"But I--"

"Enough!"

"You wrong me vilely! You must let me--"

"I have an excellent memory, and it serves me well."

Hetty suddenly threw herself upon the couch and buried her face in her arms. Great sobs shook her slender frame.

Sara stood over her and watched for a long time with pitiless eyes. Then a queer, uneasy, wondering light began to develop in those dark, ominous eyes. She leaned forward the better to listen to the choked, inarticulate words that were pouring from the girl's lips. At last, moved by some power she could not have accounted for, she knelt beside the quivering body, and laid her hand, almost timorously, upon the girl's shoulder.

"Hetty,--Hetty, if I have wronged you in--in thinking that of you,--I--I--" she began brokenly. Then she lifted her eyes, and the harsh light tried to steal back into them. "No, no! What am I saying? What a fool I am to give way--"

"You have wronged me--terribly, terribly!" came in smothered tones from the cushions. "I did not dream you thought that of me."

"What was I to think?"

Hetty lifted her head and cried out: "You would not let me speak! You refused to hear my story. You have been thinking this of me all along, holding it against me, damning me with it, and I have been closer to you than--My God, what manner of woman are you?"

Sara seized her hands and held them in a fierce, tense grip. Her eyes were glowing with a strange fire.

"Tell me--tell me now, on your soul, Hetty;--were you--were you--"

"No! No! On my soul, no!"

"Look into my eyes!"

The girl's eyes did not falter. She met the dark, penetrating gaze of the other and, though dimmed by tears, her blue eyes were steadfast and resolute. Sara seemed to be searching the very soul of her, the soul that laid itself bare, denuded of every vestige of guile.

"I--I think I believe you," came slowly from the lips of the searcher. "You are looking the truth. I can see it. Hetty, Hetty, I--I don't understand myself. It is so--so overwhelming, so tremendous. It is so incredible. Am I really believing you? Is it possible that I have been wrong in--"

"Let me tell you everything," cried the girl, suddenly throwing her arms about her.

"Not now! Wait! Give me time to think. Go away now. I want to be alone." She arose and pushed the girl toward the door. Her eyes were fixed on her in a wondering, puzzled sort of way, and she was shaking her head as if trying to discredit the new emotion that had come to displace the one created ages ago.

Slowly Hetty Castleton retreated toward the door. With her hand on the knob, she paused.

"After what has happened, Sara, you must not expect me to stay with you any longer. I cannot. You may give me up to the law, but--"

Some one was tapping gently on the door.

"Shall I see who it is?" asked the girl, after a long period of silence.

"Yes."

It was Murray. "Mr. Leslie has returned, Miss Castleton, and asks if he may see you at once. He says it is very important."

"Tell him I will be down in a few minutes, Murray."

After the door closed, she waited until the footman's steps died away on the stairs.

"I shall say no to him, Sara, and I shall say to him that you will tell him why I cannot be his wife. Do you understand? Are you listening to me?"

Sara turned away without a word or look of response.

Hetty quietly opened the door and went out.

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