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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Hollow Of Her Hand - Chapter 18. Battling Old Bones
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The Hollow Of Her Hand - Chapter 18. Battling Old Bones Post by :catalin Category :Long Stories Author :George Barr Mccutcheon Date :May 2012 Read :1007

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The Hollow Of Her Hand - Chapter 18. Battling Old Bones


They journeyed to Paris by the night mail. He was waiting for her on the platform when she descended from the wagon lit in the Gare du Nord. Sleepy passengers crowded with them into the customs department. She, alone among them all, was smiling brightly, as if the world could be sweet at an hour when, by all odds, it should be sleepiest.

"I was up and on the lookout for you at Amiens," he declared, as they walked off together. "You might have got off there, you know," with a wry grin.

"I shall not run away from you again, Brandon," she said earnestly. "I promise, on my honour."

"By Jove," he cried, "that's a relief!" Then he broke into a happy laugh.

"I shall go to the Ritz," she said, after her effects had been examined and were ready for release.

"I thought so," he announced calmly. "I wired for rooms before I left London."

"Really, this is ridic--"

"Don't frown like that, Hetty," he pleaded.

As they rattled and bounced over the cobble-stones in a taxi-metre on the way to the Place Vendome, he devoted the whole of his conversation to the delicious breakfast they were to have, expatiating glibly on the wonderful berries that would come first in that always-to-be-remembered meal. She was ravenously hungry by the time they reached the hotel, just from listening to his dissertation on chops and rolls and coffee as they are served in Paris, to say nothing of waffles and honey and the marmalade that no Englishman can do without.

Alone in his room, however, he was quite another person. His calm assurance took flight the instant he closed the door and moodily began to prepare for his bath. Resolution was undiminished, but the facts in the case were most desolating. Whatever it was that stood between them, there was no gainsaying its power to influence their lives. It was no trifle that caused her to take this second flight, and the sooner he came to realise the seriousness of opposition the better.

He made up his mind on one point in that half-hour before breakfast: if she asked him again to let her go her way in peace, it was only fair to her and right that he should submit to the inevitable. She loved him, he was sure of it. Then there must be a very good reason for her perplexing attitude toward him. He would make one more attempt to have the truth from her. Failing in that, he would accept the situation as hopeless, for the time being at least. She should know that he loved her deeply enough for that.

She joined him in the little open-air cafe, and they sat down at a table in a remote corner. There were few people breakfasting. In her tender blue eyes there was a look of sadness that haunted him, even as she smiled and called him beloved.

"Hetty, darling," he said, leaning forward and laying his hand on hers, "can't you tell me what it is?"

She was prepared for the question. In her heart she knew the time had come when she must be fair with him. He observed the pallor that stole, into her warm, smooth cheeks as she regarded him fixedly for a long time before replying.

"There is only one person in the world who can tell you, Brandon. It is for her to decide. I mean Sara Wrandall."

He felt a queer, sickening sensation of uneasiness sneak into existence. In the back of his mind, a hateful fear began to shape itself. For a long time he looked into her sombre eyes, and as he looked the fear that was hateful took on something of a definite shape.

"Did you know her husband?" he asked, and somehow he knew what the answer would be.

"Yes," she replied, after a moment. She was startled. Her lips remained parted.

He watched her closely. "Has this--this secret anything to do with Challis Wrandall?"

"It has," said she, meeting his gaze steadily.

His hands clutched the edge of the table in a grip that turned the knuckles white.

"Hetty!" he cried, in a hoarse whisper. "You--can't mean that you--"

"You must go to Sara," she cried hurriedly. "Haven't I told you that she is the one--"

"Were you in love with that infernal scoundrel?" he demanded fiercely.

"Sara knows everything. She will tell you--"

"Were you carrying on an affair with him while professing to be the friend of his wife? Tell me that! Did she find you out and--"

"Oh, Brandon, why will you persist?" she cried, her eyes aflame. "I can tell you no more. Why do you glare at me as if I were the meanest thing on earth? Is this love? Is this your idea of greatness? Isn't it enough for you to know that Sara is my loyal, devoted friend; that she--"

"Wait!" he commanded darkly. "Is it possible that she did not discover your secret until the day you left her house so abruptly? Does that explain your sudden departure?"

"I can answer that," she said quietly. "She has known everything from the day I met her. I have not said anything, Brandon, to lead you to believe that I was in love with Challis Wrandall, have I?"

His eyes softened. "No, you haven't. I--I hope you will forget what I said. You see, I knew Wrandall's reputation. He had no sense of honour. He--"

"Well, I HAVE!" she said levelly.

He flushed. "I am a beast! I'll put it in this way, then: Was he in love with you?"

"You are still unfair. I shall not answer."

He was silent for a long time. "And Sara's lips are sealed," he mused, still possessed of doubts and fears.

"Until she elects to tell the story, dearest love, my lips are also sealed. I love you better than anything else in all this world. I could willingly offer up my life for you, but--well, my life does not belong to me. It is Sara's."

"For heaven's sake, Hetty, what is all this?" he cried in desperation.

"I can say no more. It is useless to insist, Brandon. If you can wrest the story from her, all well and good. You will hate me then, dear love. But it cannot be helped. I am prepared."

"Tell me this much: when you refused to marry Leslie, was your course inspired by what had happened in--in connection with Challis Wrandall?"

"You forget that it is YOU that I love," she responded simply.

"But why should Sara urge you to marry Leslie if there is anything--"

"Hush! Here is the waiter. Come to my sitting-room after breakfast. I have something to say to you. We must come to a definite understanding. This cannot go on."

He was with her for an hour in that pinched little sitting-room, and left her there without a vestige of rancour in his soul. She would not give an inch in the stand she had taken, but something immeasurably great in his make-up rose to the occasion and he went forth with the conviction that he had no right to demand more of her than she was ready to give. He was satisfied to abide by her decision. The spell of her was over him more completely than ever before.

Two days later he saw her off at the Gare de Lyons, bound for Interlaken. There was a complete understanding between them. She wanted to be quite alone in the Alpine town; he was not to follow her there. She had reserved rooms at the Schweitzerhof, and the windows of her sitting-room looked straight up the valley to the snow-covered crest of the Jungfrau. She remembered these rooms; as a young girl she had occupied them with her father and mother. By some hook or crook, Booth arranged by wire for her to have them again, not an easy matter at that season of the year. Later she was to go on to Lucerne, and then to Venice.

The slightest shred of hope was left for Booth. Even though he might accomplish the task he had set unto himself--the conquest of Sara in respect to the untold story--he still had Hetty's dismal prophecy that after he learned the truth he would come to see why they could not be married. But he would not despair.

"We'll see," was all that he said in response to her forlorn cry that they were parting for ever. There was a grimness in the way he said it that gave her something to cherish during the months to come; the hope that he WOULD come back and take her in spite of herself.

He sailed from Cherbourg on the first steamship calling there. Awake, he thought of her; asleep, he dreamed of Challis Wrandall. There was something uncanny in the persistence with which that ruthless despoiler of peace forced his way into his dreams, to the absolute exclusion of all else. The voyage home was made horrid by these nightly reminders of a man he scarcely knew, yet dreaded. He became more or less obsessed by the idea that an evil spell had descended upon him in the shape of a ghostly influence.

The weeks passed slowly for Hetty. There were no letters from Sara, but an occasional line or so from Mr. Carroll. She had made Brandon Booth promise that he would not write to her, nor was he to expect anything from her. If her intention was to cut herself off entirely from her recent world and its people, as she might have done in another way by pursuing the time-honoured and rather cowardly plan of entering a convent, she was soon to discover that success in the undertaking brought a deeper sense of exile than she could have imagined herself able to endure at the outset. She found herself more utterly alone and friendless than at any time in her life. The chance companions she formed at Interlaken,--despite a well-meant reserve,--served only to increase her feeling of loneliness and despair. The very natural attentions of men, young and old, depressed her, instead of encouraging that essentially feminine thing called vanity. She lived as one without an aim, without a single purpose except to close one day that she might begin the next.

After a time, she went on to Lucerne. Here the life on the surface was gayer, and she was roused from her state of lethargy in spite of herself. Once, from her little balcony in the National, she saw two of her old acquaintances in the chorus at the Gaiety. They were wearing many pearls. Another time, she met them in the street. She was rather quietly dressed. They did not notice her. But the prosperous Hebraic gentlemen who attended them were not so careless.

One day a card was brought to her rooms. For the next two weeks she had a true and unavoidable friend in Lucerne. It would appear that Mrs. Rowe-Martin had not been apprised of the rift in the Wrandall lute. She had no reason to consider the exclusive Miss Castleton as anything but the most desirable of companions. Mrs. Rowe-Martin was not long in finding out (though how she did it, heaven knows!), that Lord Murgatroyd's grandniece was no longer the intimate of that impossible person, Sara Gooch. She couldn't think of Sara without thinking of Gooch.

But at last Mrs. Rowe-Martin departed, much to Hetty's secret relief, but not before she had increased the girl's burthens by introducing her into a cold-nosed cosmopolitan set from which there were but three ways of escape. She refused to marry one of them, denied another the privilege of making love to her, and declined to play auction bridge with all of them. They were not long in dropping her, although it must be said there was real regret among the men.

From Mrs. Rowe-Martin and others she heard that Mrs. Redmond Wrandall and Vivian were to be in Scotland in October, for somebody-or-other's christening, and that Leslie had been doing some really wonderful flying at Pau.

"I am SO glad, my dear," said Mrs. Rowe-Martin, "that you refused to marry Leslie. He is a cad. Besides, you would have been in a perpetual state of nerves over his flying."

Of Sara, there was no news, as might have been expected. Mrs. Rowe-Martin made it very clear that Sara was a respectable person,--but heavens!

The chill days of autumn came and the crowd began to dwindle. Hetty made preparations to join in the exodus. As the days grew short and bleak, she found herself thinking more and more of the happy-hearted, symbolic dicky-bird on a faraway window ledge. His life was neither a travesty nor a tragedy; hers was both of these.

Something told her too that Brandon Booth had wormed the truth out of Sara, and that she would never see him again. It hurt her to think that while Sara believed in her, the man who loved her did not. It is a way men have.

On the eve of her departure, an event transpired that was to alter the whole course of her life; or, more properly speaking, it was destined to put her back into an old groove.

She was walking along the quay, in the dusk of early evening, her mind full of the next day's journey over the mountains to Milan. The wind was cold; about her neck there was a boa of white ostrich feathers, one end of which fluttered gaily over her shoulder. She was continually turning half-way about against the wind to reclaim the truant end of the boa. It was in the act of doing so on one occasion that her attention was drawn to two men who sauntered across the avenue from the approach to the Schweitzerhof.

She stopped still in her tracks, petrified by amazement--and alarm, if we may anticipate the sensation by a second or two.

One of the men was Leslie Wrandall, the other--her own father!

In a flash came the impulse to avoid them, to fly before they recognised her. But even as she turned and started off with a sudden acceleration of speed, a shout assailed her ears, and then came the swift rush of footsteps over the hard pavement.

"Hetty! As I live!" cried Leslie, planting himself in front of her. His astonishment alone kept him from laying hands upon her, to make sure that she was really there. "Well, of all the--"

She extended her hand. "This is a surprise," she said, with admirable control. "I hadn't the faintest notion you were in Lucerne."

"By Jove!" he mumbled, shaking hands with her but still dazed and uncertain. He suddenly remembered his companion. Turning with a shout, he brought the soldierly, middle-aged gentleman about-face with scant ceremony. "Hey! Colonel Castleton! See who's here! Doesn't this bowl you over completely?"

Colonel Castleton, sallow, ascetic, deliberate in his movements, raised his glass to his eye as he came toward them.

"'Pon my soul!" burst from his astonished lips a second afterward. He stopped short and his jaw dropped in a most unmilitary fashion. "'Pon my soul! It CAN'T be my daughter!" He seemed to be having difficulty not only with his head but with his feet; neither appeared to be operating intelligently. As a matter of fact, he stood for an instant on his toes and then on his heels. He was perilously near to being bowled over completely and literally.

Hetty was the first to recover. She advanced with a fair assumption of warmth in her manner. Her heart, belying her, was as cold as ice.

"Father!" she cried, holding out her hands.

He grasped them, and looked wildly about.

"Kiss me!" she whispered imperatively.

He stooped and brushed her cheek with his long moustache.

"Good God!" he muttered, still incredulous.

She turned to the excited Leslie with a quavering smile on her lips.

"We haven't seen each other in twelve years, Mr. Wrandall," she said.

"'Pon my soul!" added her father for the third time, thereby reaching the limit of emphasis, having placed it differently each time.

Leslie surprised himself by rising to the occasion. It occurred to him that they would like to be alone for a little while at least.

"Then, I'll stroll on, Colonel," he said. "By Jove!" The mild expletive was a tribute to Providence.

Not a word was spoken by father or daughter until Wrandall was many rods away.

"Where did you meet Leslie Wrandall?" she demanded, showing which way her thoughts ran. They were far from filial.

"Aviation field--somewhere," said he in a vague sort of way. "Pau, I dare say. What are you doing here? I hear you've cut loose from Wrandall's sister-in-law. Was that a sensible thing to do?"

"I fancy you've been misinformed," said she in an emotionless voice, but offered no further word of explanation.

"Shan't we sit down here on this bench, my dear?" suggested the Colonel, distinctly ill at ease.

"For the sake of appearances, yes," she assented.

Leslie, looking over his shoulder from a distance, saw them sitting together on one of the outer benches.

"By Jove!" he said to himself once more, this time with accumulative perplexity.

"See here, Hetty, my child," began the Colonel nervously, "it's all nonsense your taking the stand you do toward me. I am your father. I repeat, it's all nonsense--damned nonsense. You've got to--"

"Has it taken you all these years to find out that it's nonsense?" she demanded, her eyes flashing. "It's no good arguing, father. I don't like you. There is a very good reason why I should despise you. We won't go into it. After this meeting, we go our separate ways again. This, it seems, was unavoidable. I shan't ask anything of you, and I advise you to ask nothing of me."

"My God, that a child should utter such words to a father!" he groaned.

"A father!" she cried so scornfully that he must have shrivelled had he been any one else but Colonel Castleton of the Indian Corps. As it was, he had the grace to turn a very bright red. "A noble father you have been! And what a splendid, self-sacrificing husband you were. No! I can't forget how my mother lived and died. You call it nonsense. Well, I call it something else. You took a most effective way to punish my poor mother for having the temerity to marry an English gentleman. Thank God, I have my mother to look back to for my own ideas of gentility."

"You never understood the way things went wrong between your mother and me," he said harshly. "She wasn't all you may be pleased to think she was. She--"

"How dare you insinuate--"

"She chucked me. That's the sum and sub--"

"Oh, I was old enough to know that she left you--chucked you, if you will--and to know why she did it. I--I suppose you are looked upon by--these people here--Leslie Wrandall and every one else, as a fine English gentleman, a cousin of the great Lord Murgatroyd. Are you?"

"Confound you, Hetty, how dare you use such a tone in speaking to me?" he exclaimed.

"They THINK you are a gentleman, do they?"

"THINK? Why, dammit, I am a gentleman. The only ungentlemanly thing I ever did in my life was to--" He checked the angry words, biting his lips to keep them down.

"Was to desert your wife," she supplied scathingly.

"No! To marry her!" He blurted it out in his rage.

"Oh!" she cried, shrinking farther away from him, cut to the quick.

He regarded her with cold, fishy eyes. She was uncommonly pretty, he was bound to admit that. Her mother's eyes, her mother's exquisite skin, but singularly like certain Castleton portraits that he knew. It somehow galled him to find that there was quite as much of the blue-blooded Castleton in her as there was commonplace Glynn; galled him more particularly because she was his own flesh and blood after all and, in spite of that, could taunt him with it.

"I didn't mean to hurt you, Hetty," he said, to his own surprise. The touch of tenderness had a brief life. He scowled an instant later. "We won't discuss the past, if you please. God knows I don't want to dig up rotten bones. You are against your own father. That's enough for me. I shan't impose myself upon you. You--"

"Why couldn't you have treated her with--" began Hetty hotly.

"Sh! No more of that, I say. I will not be upbraided by my own child. Now, see here, what do you mean by letting a chance like that get away from you?" He jerked his head in the direction Leslie had taken.


"Yes. This Wrandall fellow. 'Gad, I've known him less than a fortnight and he's told me every secret he ever knew. Why don't you marry him? He's not a bad sort."

"That is my affair," said she coldly.

"I'd take him like a shot if I was a gel in your shoes."

"He told you I had refused to marry him?"

"A hundred times."

"Did you reward his confidence by relating the WHOLE history of the Castleton family?"

He stared at her. "Good Lord, do you think I'm an ass?"

"What have you told him?"

"Nothing. I permitted him to do all the telling. He gave me a highly commendable account of myself, of you, of the fine old family of Glynns and--God knows what all. He restored my pride, 'pon my soul he did." The Colonel laughed as he twisted his moustache with ironic fondness.

She was quite still for a minute or two. "I heard you were in England," she said, changing the subject.

"It may interest you to know that the old man overlooked us completely," he said, striking the calf of his leg with his thin walking-stick.

"Why should he leave anything to you?"

"And why not, curse him?" he growled. "Am I not his brother's son? What do you mean by asking a question like that?"

"I think I will say good-bye to you now, father," she said deliberately. "We may never see each other again." She arose and stood before him, cold and proud, without a spark of emotion in her eyes.

He sat still, looking up at her in surprise. "Do you think you're doing the right thing, Hetty?" he asked, annoyed in spite of himself. "Remember that I am your father. I can and will overlook all you have said and done--"

"If you will go to her grave and kneel there and ask her pardon, I may think differently of you because, after all, I am your daughter. You will not find her buried among the stately Castletons, but in a poor little spot far, far away from them. I can tell you how to find it. You have never inquired, I suppose?"

His eyes narrowed. "By Jove, you are a mean little beggar!"

"Mean?" she cried, clenching her hands. Then she laughed suddenly, shrilly. "Oh, if my mother could hear you say that to me!"

"Damme!" he exclaimed, coming to his feet in considerable agitation. "Do you want people to hear us ragging each other? Don't go into hysterics, Hetty! See here, do you forget that I have written to you--loving letters they were--from the heart--written, I say, over and over again and what do I get in return? Not a single stroke of the pen from you, except the note a year ago telling me where you were and--"

"And that was merely to relieve your anxiety when you found I'd given up my work on the stage and might become a burden on you. Oh, I read between your lines."

"Nothing of the sort. I never wanted you to go on the stage. Why have you persistently refused to answer my subsequent letters?"

"Because I read between the lines in all of them," she said levelly.

"You have no right to say that I expected you to get money out of that bally Wrandall woman--the goods merchant's daughter. That's downright insulting in you. I shan't let it go undefend--"

"You knew I couldn't lend you a thousand pounds, father," said she, very slowly and distinctly.

He coughed, perhaps in apology to her but more than likely to himself.

"You are at liberty," she went on, "to tell Mr. Leslie Wrandall all there is to tell about me. He doesn't know, but it won't matter much if he does have the truth concerning me. Tell him all if you like."

"My child," said he, with a fine display of wounded dignity, "I am not quite the rotter you think I am."

He did not feel called upon to explain to her that he had already borrowed a thousand pounds from her disappointed suitor, and was setting his nets for another thousand or two.

"It really won't matter," she said wearily. "Good-bye. I am leaving at nine to-morrow for Italy."

"See you at dinner? Or afterward, just for a--"

"I think not. I do not care to see Mr. Wrandall."

"Think it over again, Hetty. Don't--"

"Oh, father! How can you say such things to me?" she cried, a break in her voice.

"Good God, my dear, isn't it natural for a father to want to see his daughter well provided for?"

She turned away.

"I am contemplating a visit to the States shortly," he remarked, following after her.

She whirled on him. "What!"

"Young Wrandall has asked me over for a month or two about the first of the year. His people are in Scotland now, I hear."

"Are you THROUGH with India?" she asked in a very low voice.

"Resigned," said he succinctly.


He flushed and muttered an oath. She understood. He had been "kicked out!"

"Hello!" called out a sprightly voice from the gathering darkness, and the next moment Leslie joined them. "Have dinner with us to-night, Hetty? Just the three of us. Please do."

"No, thank you, Mr. Wrandall. I am getting ready to leave to-morrow. Packing and all that sort of thing."

"Did Colonel Castleton tell you that I'm off for New York on Saturday? Mother and Viv are to get the boat at Southampton. I thought you'd be interested to know what's just turned up over there?"

"What has happened?" she cried quickly.

Leslie hesitated. A curious gleam stole into his eyes. Was it of triumph?

"Father's got rather old-fashioned ideas about certain things," he observed, by way of preface. "He writes that Sara is contemplating a second venture into the state of wedded bliss."

Hetty stared at him. "I--I don't believe it," she said flatly. "How can it be possible? She sees no one."

He laughed. "You're wrong there," said he mendaciously. "She's been seeing a great deal of a certain mutual friend of ours--all summer long."

"You mean?"

"Brandon Booth. Father says that rumour has it they are to be married after the holidays. I fancy he needed consolation, after what happened to him earlier in the year. He was pretty hard hit, believe me." After a moment, he went on boldly: "I ought to be in a position to sympathise with him, I suppose, but I don't. It isn't in me to--"

"You say they are to be married?" cried Hetty, dazed and bewildered.

They had fallen behind Colonel Castleton, who walked on stiffly ahead of them.

Leslie treated her to his most engaging smile.

"Looks very Goochy, doesn't it? I'm coming to believe more than ever that blood will tell. Sara knew what she was doing when she cleared her decks for action a few months ago. 'Gad, I understand now why she was so eager to bring off the--well, another match we know about. Pretty canny, eh?"

"It is incredible," said she, with unnecessary vehemence.

"Not in the least. Clever person, Sara is. Sets her heart on a thing, and--woof! she gets it, whether or no. Now, don't misunderstand me. I'm fond of Brandon Booth. We all are. We don't object to him as a sort of family attachment. But if she's going to marry him, we want to know where we stand in a business way. You see, he will not only step into my brother Chal's shoes at home, but at the office. And, heaven knows, Brandy is not a good business man. He's great on portraits, but--I beg pardon!"

"I must leave you here, Mr. Wrandall. Good-bye!"

"Oh, I say, can't we see something of--"

"I am afraid not."

He kept pace with her through the hall.

"I suppose your father told you that I--I haven't altogether given up hope of--you."

"He spoke of going to America with you, if that's what you mean," she said coldly, and left him at the foot of the staircase.

Leslie's hand trembled as it went up to his moustache. "I can't understand her beastly obstinacy," he said to himself.

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