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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Hollow Of Her Hand - Chapter 19. Vivian Airs Her Opinions
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The Hollow Of Her Hand - Chapter 19. Vivian Airs Her Opinions Post by :catalin Category :Long Stories Author :George Barr Mccutcheon Date :May 2012 Read :3286

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The Hollow Of Her Hand - Chapter 19. Vivian Airs Her Opinions

CHAPTER XIX. VIVIAN AIRS HER OPINIONS

Chief among Booth's virtues was his undeviating loyalty to a set purpose. He went back to America with the firm intention to clear up the mystery surrounding Hetty Castleton, no matter how irksome the delay in achieving his aim or how vigorous the methods he would have to employ. Sara Wrandall, to all purposes, held the key; his object in life now was to induce her to turn it in the lock and throw open the door so that he might enter in and become a sharer in the secrets beyond.

A certain amount of optimistic courage attended him in his campaign against what had been described to him as the impossible. He could see no clear reason why she should withhold the secret under the new conditions, when so much in the shape of happiness was at stake. It was in this spirit of confidence that he prepared to confront her on his arrival in New York, and it was the same unbounded faith in the belief that nothing evil could result from a perfectly just and honourable motive that gave him the needed courage.

He stayed over night in New York, and the next morning saw him on his way to Southlook. There was something truly ingenuous in his desire to get to the bottom of the matter without fear or apprehension. At the very worst, he maintained, there could be nothing more reprehensible than a passing infatuation, long since dispelled, or perhaps a mildly sinister episode in which virtue had been triumphant and vice defeated with unpleasant results to at least one person, and that person the husband of Sara Wrandall.

Pat met him at the station and drove him to the little cottage on the upper road.

"Ye didn't stay long," said he reflectively, after he had put the bag up in front. He took up the reins.

"Not very," replied his master.

After a dozen rods or more, Pat tried again.

"Just siventeen days, I make it."

"Seems longer."

"Perhaps you'll be after going back soon."

"Why should you think that, Patrick?"

"Because you don't seem to be takin' much interest in your surroundin's here," said Pat loftily. He delivered a smart smack on the crupper with his stubby whip, and pursed his lips for the companionship to be derived from whistling.

"I suppose you know why I went to Europe," said Booth, laying his hand affectionately on the man's arm.

"Sure I do," said Pat, forgetting to whistle. "And was it bad luck you had, sor?"

"A temporary case of it, I'm afraid."

"Well," said the Irishman, looking up at his employer with the most profound encouragement in his wink, "if it's anny help to you, sor, I'll say that I've niver found bad luck to be annything but timporary. And, believe ME, I've had plinty of it. Mary was dom near three years makin' up her mind to say yis to me."

"And since then you've had no bad luck?" said Booth, with a smile.

"Plinty of it, begob, but I've had some one besides meself to blame for it. There's a lot in that, Mr. Brandon. Whin a man marries, he simply divides his luck into two parts, good and bad, and if he's like most men he puts the bulk av the bad luck on his wife and kapes to himself all he can av the good for a rainy day. That's what makes him a strong man and able to meet trouble when it comes. The beauty av the arrangement is that bad luck is only timporary and a woman enjoys talking about it, while good luck is wid us nine-tinths of the time, whether we know it or not, and we don't have to talk about it."

This was fine philosophy, but Booth discerned the underlying motive.

"Have you been quarrelling?"

"I have NOT," said Pat wrathfully. "But I won't say as much for Mary. The point av me argument is that I have all the good luck in havin' married her, and she claims to have had all the bad luck in marryin' me. Still, as I said before,'tis but timporary. The good luck lasts and the bad don't. She'll be after tellin' me so before sundown. That's like all women. You'll find it out for yourself wan o' these days, Mr. Brandon, and ye'll be dom proud ye're a man and can enjoy your good luck when ye get it. The bad luck's always fallin' behind ye, and ye can always look forward to the good luck. So don't be down-hearted. She'll take you, or me name's not what it ought to be."

Booth was inclined to accept this unique discourse as a fair-weather sign.

"Take these bags upstairs, Pat," said he on their arrival at the cottage, "and then come down and drive me over to Mrs. Wrandall's."

"Will ye be after stayin' for lunch with her, Mr. Brandon?" inquired Pat, climbing over the wheel.

"I can't answer that question now."

"Hiven help both av us if Mary's good luncheon goes to waste," said Pat ominously. "That's all I have to say. She'll take it out av both av us."

"Tell her I'll be here for lunch," said Booth, with alacrity. From which it may be perceived that master and man were of one mind when it came to considering the importance of Mary.

Pat studied his watch for a moment with a calculating eye.

"It's half-past eliven now, sor," he announced. "D'ye think ye can make it?"

Booth reflected. "I think not," he said. "I'll have luncheon first." Whereupon he leaped from the trap and went in to tell Mary how happy he was to be where he could enjoy home-cooking.

At four he was delivered at Sara's door by the astute Patrick, announced by the sedate Watson and interrogated by the intelligent Murray, who seemed surprised to hear that he would NOT have anything cool to drink. Sara sent word that she would be down in fifteen minutes, but, as a matter of fact, appeared in less than three.

She came directly to the point.

"Well," she said, with her mysterious smile, "she sent you back to me, I see." He was still clasping her hand.

"Have you heard from her?" he asked quickly.

"No. But I knew just what would happen. I told you it would prove to be a wild goose chase. Where is she?"

He sat down beside her on the cool, white covered couch.

"In Switzerland. I put her on the train the night before I sailed. Yes, she did send me back to you. Now I'm here, I want the whole story, Sara. What is it that stands between us?"

For an hour he pleaded with her, all to no purpose. She steadfastly refused to divulge the secret. Not even his blunt reference to Challis Wrandall's connection with the affair found a vulnerable spot in her armour.

"I shan't give it up, Sara," he said, at the end of his earnest harangue against the palpably unfair stand both she and Hetty were taking. "I mean to harass you, if you please, until I get what I'm after. It is of the most vital importance to me. Quite as much so, I am sure, as it appears to be to you. If Hetty will say the word, I'll take her gladly, just as she is, without knowing what all this is about. But, you see, she won't consent. There must be some way to override her. You both admit there is no legal barrier. You tell me to-day that there is no insanity in her family, and a lot of other things that I've been able to bring out by questioning, so I am more than ever certain that the obstacle is not so serious as you would have me believe. Therefore, I mean to pester you until you give in, my dear Sara."

"Very well," she said resignedly. "When may I expect a renewal of the conflict?"

"Would to-morrow be convenient?" he asked quaintly.

She returned his smile. "Come to luncheon."

"Have I your permission to start the portrait?"

"Yes. As soon as you like."

He left her without feeling that he had gained an inch along the road to success. That night, in the gloaming of his star-lit porch, he smoked many a pipeful and derived therefrom a profound estimate of the value of tact and discretion as opposed to bold and impulsive measures in the handling of a determined woman. He would make haste slowly, as the saying goes. Many an unexpected victory is gained by dilatory tactics, provided the blow is struck at the psychological moment of least resistance.

The weeks slipped by. He was with her almost daily. Other people came to her house, some for rather protracted visits, others in quest of pillage at the nightly bridge table, but he was seldom missing. There were times when he thought he detected a tendency to waver, but each cunning attempt on his part to encourage the impulse invariably brought a certain mocking light into her eyes and he veered off in defeat. Something kept telling him, however, that the hour was bound to come when she would falter in her resolution; when frankness would meet frankness, and the veil be lifted.

A rather impossible relative in the person of an aunt came to spend the month of August with Sara--her father's sister. She was a true, unvarnished Gooch. Booth shuddered at times when she emerged flat-foot from the background and revelled in the Goochiness that would not stay put, no matter how hard she tried to subdue it. She was a good soul,--much too good, in fact,--and her efforts to live up to requirements were not only ludicrous but exasperating. Sara was quite serene about her, however. She made no excuses for the old lady; in fact, she appeared to be quite devoted to her. Booth was beginning to appreciate something of the horror the Wrandalls must have felt when Challis took unto himself a Gooch. He berated himself in secret for his snobbishness and in public made atonement by being expansively polite to Mrs. Coburn. The good lady had the habit of telling every one what a wonderful person Sebastian Gooch had been, sometimes comparing him not unfavourably with Napoleon Bonaparte and George Washington: he was like the Corsican in getting the better of his adversaries, no matter how he had to go about it, but like the Father of his Country in the matter of veracity. So far as she knew, Sebastian had never told a lie. To Mrs. Coburn, Sebastian was Saint Sebastian.

The portrait was finished before Mrs. Coburn left. She liked everything about it except the gown, the drapery and--yes, the hands. They were too long and tapering. No Gooch ever had a hand like that. The Gooch hands were broad and strong: like her own. All this, notwithstanding the fact that Sara's hand lay exposed all the time she was speaking, a physical contradiction to her assertion.

She stayed the month and then re-entered Yonkers.

There were no letters from Hetty, no word of any description. If Sara knew anything of the girl's movements she did not take Booth into her confidence.

Leslie Wrandall went abroad in August, ostensibly to attend the aviation meets in France and England. His mother and sister sailed in September, but not before the entire colony of which they were a part had begun to discuss Sara and Booth with a relish that was obviously distasteful to the Wrandalls.

Where there is smoke there is fire, said all the gossips, and forthwith proceeded to carry fagots.

A week or so before sailing, Mrs. Redmond Wrandall had Booth in for dinner. I think she said en famille. At any rate, Sara was not asked, which is proof enough that she was bent on making it a family affair.

After dinner, Booth sat in the screened upper balcony with Vivian. He liked her. She was a keen-witted, plain-spoken young woman, with few false ideals and no subtlety. She was less snobbish than arrogant. Of all the Wrandalls, she was the least self-centred. Leslie never quite understood her for the paradoxical reason that she thoroughly understood him.

"You know, Brandon," she said, after a long silence between them, "they've been setting my cap for you for a long, long time." She blew a thin stream of cigarette smoke toward the moon.

He started. It was a bolt from a clear sky. "The deuce!"

"Yes," she went on in the most casual tone, "mother's had her heart set on it for months. You were supposed to be mine at first sight, I believe. Please don't look so uneasy. I'm not going to propose to you." She laughed her little ironic laugh.

"So that is the way things stood, eh?" he said, still a little amazed by her candour.

"Yes. And what is more to the point, I am quite sure I should have said yes if you had asked me. Sounds odd, doesn't it? Rather amusing, too, being able to discuss it so unreservedly, isn't it?"

"Good heavens, Viv!" he cried uncomfortably. "I--I had no idea you cared--"

"Cared!" she cried, as he paused. "I don't care two pins for you in that way. But I would have married you, just the same, because you are worth marrying. I'd very much rather have you for a husband than any man I know, but as for loving you! Pooh! I'd love you in just the way mother loves father, and I wouldn't have been a bit more trouble to you than she is to him."

"'Gad, you don't mind what you say!"

"Failing to nab you, Brandy, I dare say I'll have to come down to a duke or, who knows? maybe a mere prince. It isn't very enterprising, is it? And certainly it isn't a gay prospect. Really, I had hoped you would have me. I flatter myself, I suppose, but, honestly now, we would have made a rather nice looking couple, wouldn't we?"

"You flatter me," he said.

"But," she resumed, calmly exhaling, "you very foolishly fell in love with some one else, and it wasn't necessary for me to pretend that I was in love with you--which I should have done, believe me, if you had given me the chance. You fell in love, first with Hetty Castleton."

"First?" he cried, frowning.

"And now you are heels over head in love with my beautiful sister-in-law. Which all goes to prove that I would have made just the kind of wife you need, considering your tendency to fluctuate. But how dreadful it would have been for a sentimental, loving girl like Hetty!"

He sat bolt upright and stared hard at her.

"See here, Viv, what the dickens are you driving at? I'm not in love with Sara--not in the least,--and--" He checked himself sharply. "What an ass I am! You're guying me."

"In any event, I am right about Hetty," she said, leaning forward, her manner quite serious.

"If it will ease your mind," he said stiffly, "I plead guilty with all my heart."

She favoured him with a slight frown of annoyance.

"And you deny the fluctuating charge?"

"Most positively. I can afford to be honest with you, Viv. You are a corker. I love Hetty Castleton with all my soul."

She leaned back in her chair. "Then why don't you dignify your soul by being honest with HER?"

"What do you mean?"

For a half-minute she was silent. "Are you and I of the same stripe, after all? Would you marry Sara without loving her, as I would have done by you? It doesn't seem like you, Brandon."

"Good heaven, I'm not going to marry Sara!" he blurted out. "It's never entered my head."

"Perhaps it has entered hers."

"Nonsense! She isn't going to marry anybody. And she knows how I feel toward Hetty. If it came to the point where I decided to marry without love, 'pon my soul, Viv, I believe I'd pick you out as the victim."

"Wonderful combination!" she said with a frank laugh. "The quintessence of 'no love lost.' But to resume! Do you know that people are saying you are to be married before the winter is over?"

"Let 'em say it," he said gruffly.

"Oh, well," she said, despatching it all with a gesture, "if that's the way you feel about it, there's no more to be said."

He was ashamed. "I beg your pardon, I shouldn't have said that."

"You see," she went on, reverting to the original topic, "people who know Sara are likely to credit her with motives you appear to be totally ignorant of. She set her heart on my brother Challis, when she was a great deal younger than she is now, and she got him. If age and experience count for anything, how capable she must be by this time."

He was too wise to venture an opinion. "I assure you she has no designs on me."

"Perhaps not. But I fancy that even you could not escape as St. Anthony did. She is most alluring."

"You don't like her."

"Obviously. And yet I don't dislike her. She has the virtue of consistency, if one may use the expression. She loved my brother. Leslie says she should have hated him. We have tried to like her. I think I have come nearer to it than any of the others, not excepting Leslie, who has always been her champion. I suppose you know that he was your rival at one time."

"He mentioned it," said Booth drily.

"I should have been very much disappointed in her if she had accepted him."

"Indeed?"

"I sometimes wonder if Sara spiked Leslie's guns for him."

"I can tell you something you don't know, Vivian," said he. "Sara was rather keen about making a match there."

Vivian's smile was slow but triumphant. "That is just what I thought. There you are! Doesn't that explain Sara?"

"In a measure, yes. But, you see, it developed that Hetty cared for some one else, and that put a stop to everything."

"Am I to take it that you are the some one else?"

"Yes," said he soberly.

"Then, may I ask why she went away so suddenly?"

"You may ask but I can't answer."

"Do you want my opinion? She went away because Sara, failing in her plan to marry her off to Leslie, decided that it would be fatal to a certain project of her own if she remained on the field of action. Do I make myself clear?"

"Oh, you are away off in your conclusions, Viv."

"Time will tell," was her cabalistic rejoinder.

Her father appeared on the lawn below and called up to them.

"You are wanted at the telephone, Brandon. I've just been talking to Sara."

"Did she call you up, father?" asked Vivian, leaning over the rail.

"Yes. About nothing in particular, however."

She turned upon Booth with a mocking smile. He felt the colour rush to his face, and was angry with himself.

He went in to the telephone. Almost her first words were these:

"What has Vivian been telling you about me, Brandon?"

He actually gasped. "Good heavens, Sara!"

He heard her low laugh. "So she HAS been saying things, has she?" she asked. "I thought so. I've had it in my bones to-night."

He was at a loss for words. It was positively uncanny. As he stood there, trying to think of a trivial remark, her laugh came to him again over the wire, followed by a drawling "good-night," and then the soughing of the wind over the "open" wire.

The next day he called her up on the telephone quite early. He knew her habits. She would be abroad in her gardens by eight o'clock. He remembered well that Leslie, in commenting on her absurdly early hours, had once said that her "early bird" habit was hereditary: she got it from Sebastian.

"What put it into your head, Sara, that Vivian was saying anything unpleasant about you last night?"

"Magic," she replied succinctly.

"Rubbish!"

"I have a magic tapestry that transports me, hither and thither, and by night I always carry Aladdin's lamp. So, you see, I see and hear everything."

"Be sensible."

"Very well. I will be sensible. If you intend to be influenced by what Vivian or her mother said to you last night, I think you'd be wise to avoid me from this time on."

Prepared though he was, he blinked his eyes and said something she didn't quite catch.

She went on: "Moreover, in addition to my attainments in the black art, I am quite as clever as Mr. Sherlock Holmes in some respects. I really do some splendid deducing. In the first place, you were asked there and I was not. Why? Because I was to be discussed. You see--"

"Marvellous!" he interrupted loudly.

"You were to be told that I have cruel designs upon you."

"Go on, please."

"And all that sort of thing," she said sweepingly, and he could almost see the inclusive gesture with her free hand. He laughed but still marvelled at the shrewdness of her perceptions.

"I'll come over this afternoon and show you wherein you are wrong," he began, but she interrupted him with a laugh.

"I am starting for the city before noon, by motor, to be gone at least a fortnight."

"What! This is the first I've heard of it."

Again she laughed. "To be perfectly frank with you, I hadn't heard of it myself until just now. I think I shall go down to the Homestead with the Carrolls."

"Hot Springs?"

"Virginia," she added explicitly.

"I say, Sara, what does all this mean? You--"

"And if you should follow me there, Vivian's estimate of us will not be so far out of the way as we'd like to make it."

True to her word, she was gone when he drove over later on in the day. Somehow, he experienced a feeling of relief. Not that he was oppressed by the rather vivacious opinions of Vivian and her ilk, but because something told him that Sara was wavering in her determination to withhold the secret from him and fled for perfectly obvious reasons.

He had two commissions among the rich summer colonists. One, a full length portrait of young Beardsley in shooting togs, was nearly finished. The other was to be a half-length of Mrs. Ravenscroft, who wanted one just like Hetty Castleton's, except for the eyes, which she admitted would have to be different. Nothing was said of the seventeen years' difference in their ages. Vivian had put off posing until Lent.

The Wrandalls departed for Scotland, and other friends of his began to desert the country for the city. The fortnight passed and another week besides. Mrs. Ravenscroft decided to go to Europe when the picture was half-finished.

"You can finish it when I come back in December, Mr. Booth," she said. "I'll have several new gowns to choose from, too."

"I shall be busy all winter, Mrs. Ravenscroft," he said coldly.

"How annoying," she said calmly, and that was the end of it all. She had made the unpleasant discovery that it WASN'T going to be in the least like Hetty Castleton's, so why bother about it?

Booth waited until Sara came out to superintend the closing of her house for the winter. He called at Southlook on the day of her arrival. He was struck at once by the curious change in her appearance and manner. There was something bleak and desolate in the vividly brilliant face: the tired, wistful, harassed look of one who has begun to quail and yet fights on.

"Will you go out with me to-morrow, Brandon, for an all-day trip in the car?" she asked, as they stood together before the open fireplace on this late November afternoon. Her eyes were moody, her voice rather lifeless.

"Certainly," he said, watching her closely. Was the break about to come?

"I will stop for you at nine." After a short pause, she looked up and said: "I suppose you would like to know where I am taking you."

"It doesn't matter, Sara."

"I want you to go with me to Burton's Inn."

"Burton's Inn?"

"That is the place where my husband was killed," she said, quite steadily.

He started. "Oh! But--do you think it best, Sara, to open old wounds by--"

"I have thought it all out, Brandon. I want to go there--just once. I want to go into that room again."

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