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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Hollow Of Her Hand - Chapter 25. Renunciation
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The Hollow Of Her Hand - Chapter 25. Renunciation Post by :catalin Category :Long Stories Author :George Barr Mccutcheon Date :May 2012 Read :2315

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The Hollow Of Her Hand - Chapter 25. Renunciation

CHAPTER XXV. RENUNCIATION

On the third day after the singular trial of Hetty Castleton in Sara's library, young Mrs. Wrandall's motor drew up in front of a lofty office building in lower Broadway; its owner stepped down from the limousine and entered the building. A few moments later she walked briskly into the splendid offices of Wrandall & Co., private bankers and steamship-owners. The clerks in the outer offices stared for a moment in significant surprise, and then bowed respectfully to the beautiful silent partner in the great concern.

It was the first time she had been seen in the offices since the tragic event that had served to make her a member of the firm. A boy at the information desk, somewhat impressed by her beauty and the trim elegance of her long black broad-tail coat, to say nothing of the dark eyes that shone through the narrow veil, forgot the dignity of his office and went so far as to politely ask her who she wanted to see and "what name, please."

The senior clerk rushed forward and transfixed the new boy with a glare.

"A new boy, Mrs. Wrandall," he made haste to explain. To the new boy's surprise, the visitor was conducted with much bowing and scraping into the private offices, where no one ventured except by special edict of the powers.

"Who was it?" he asked, in some awe, of a veteran stenographer who came up and sneered at him.

"Mrs. Challis Wrandall, you little simpleton," said she, and for once he failed to snap back.

It is of record that for nearly two whole days, he was polite to every visitor who approached him and was generally worth his salt.

Sara found herself in the close little room that once had been her husband's, but was now scrupulously held in reserve for her own use. Rather a waste of space, she felt as she looked about the office. The clerk dusted an easy chair and threw open the long unused desk near the window.

"We are very glad to see you here, madam," he said. "This room hasn't been used much, as you may observe. Is there anything I can do for you?"

She continued her critical survey of the room. Nothing had been changed since the days when she used to visit her husband here on occasions of rare social importance: such as calling to take him out to luncheon, or to see that he got safely home on rainy afternoons. The big picture of a steamship still hung on the wall across the room. Her own photograph, in a silver frame, stood in one of the recesses of the desk. She observed that there was a clean white blotter there, too; but the ink wells appeared to be empty, if she was to judge by the look of chagrin on the clerk's face as he inspected them. Photographs of polo scenes in which Wrandall was a prominent figure, hung about the walls, with two or three pictures of his favourite ponies, and one of a ragged gipsy girl with wonderful eyes, carrying a monkey in a crude wooden cage strapped to her back. On closer observation one would have recognised Sara's peculiarly gipsy-like features in the face of the girl, and then one would have noticed the caption written in red ink at the bottom of the photograph: "The Trumbell's Fancy Dress Ball, January 10, '07. Sara as Gipsy Mab."

With a start, Sara came out of her painful reverie. She passed her hand over her eyes, and seemed thereby to put the polite senior clerk back into the picture once more.

"No, thank you. Is Mr. Redmond Wrandall down this afternoon?"

"He came in not ten minutes ago. Mr. Leslie Wrandall is also here. Shall I tell Mr. Wrandall you wish to see him?"

"You may tell him, that I am here, if you please," she said.

"I am very sorry about the ink wells, madam," murmured the clerk. "We--we were not expecting--"

"Pray don't let it disturb you, Mr. Bancroft. I shall not use them to-day."

"They will be properly filled by to-morrow."

"Thank you."

He disappeared. She relaxed in the familiar, comfortable old leather-cushioned chair, and closed her eyes. There was a sharp little line between them, but it was hidden by the veil.

The door opened slowly and Redmond Wrandall came into the room. She arose at once.

"This is--er--an unexpected pleasure, Sara," he said, perplexed and ill-at-ease. He stopped just inside the door he had been careful to close behind him, and did not offer her his hand.

"I came down to attend to some business, Mr. Wrandall," she said.

"Business?" he repeated, staring.

She took note of the tired, haggard look in his eyes, and the tightly compressed lips.

"I intend to dispose of my entire interest in Wrandall & Co.," she announced calmly.

He took a step forward, plainly startled by the declaration.

"What's this?" he demanded sharply.

"We may as well speak plainly, Mr. Wrandall," she said. "You do not care to have me remain a member of the firm, nor do I blame you for feeling as you do about it. A year ago you offered to buy me out--or off, as I took it to be at the time. I had reasons then for not selling out to you. To-day I am ready either to buy or to sell."

"You--you amaze me," he exclaimed.

"Does your offer of last December still stand?"

"I--I think we would better have Leslie in, Sara. This is most unexpected. I don't quite feel up to--"

"Have Leslie in by all means," she said, resuming her seat.

He hesitated a moment, opened his lips as if to speak, and then abruptly left the room.

Sara smiled.

Many minutes passed before the two Wrandalls put in an appearance. She understood the delay. They were telephoning to certain legal advisers.

"What's this I hear, Sara?" demanded Leslie, extending his hand after a second's hesitation.

She shook hands with him, not listlessly but with the vigour born of nervousness.

"I don't know what you've heard," she said pointedly.

His slim fingers went searching for the end of his moustache.

"Why,--why, about selling out to us," he stammered.

"I am willing to retire from the firm of Wrandall & Co.," she said.

"Father says the business is as good as it was a year ago, but I don't agree with him," said the son, trying to look lugubrious.

"Then you don't care to repeat your original proposition?"

"Well, the way business has been falling off--"

"Perhaps you would prefer to sell out to me," she remarked quietly.

"Not at all!" he said quickly, with a surprised glance at his father. "We couldn't think of letting the business pass out of the Wrandall name."

"You forget that MY name is Wrandall," she rejoined. "There would be no occasion to change the firm's name; merely its membership."

"Our original offer stands," said the senior Wrandall stiffly. "We prefer to buy."

"And I to sell. Mr. Carroll will meet you to-morrow, gentlemen. He will represent me as usual. Our business as well as social relations are about to end, I suppose. My only regret is that I cannot further accommodate you by changing my name. Still you may live in hope that time may work even that wonder for you."

She arose. The two men regarded her in an aggrieved way for a moment.

"I have no real feeling of hostility toward you, Sara," said Leslie nervously, "in spite of all that you said the other night."

"I am afraid you don't mean that, deep down in your heart, Leslie," she said, with a queer little smile.

"But I do," he protested. "Hang it all, we--we live in a glass house ourselves, Sara. I dare say, in a way, I was quite as unpleasant as the rest of the family. You see, we just can't help being snobs. It's in us, that's all there is to it."

Mr. Wrandall looked up from the floor, his gaze having dropped at the first outburst from his son's lips.

"We--we prefer to be friendly, Sara, if you will allow us--"

She laughed and the old gentleman stopped in the middle of his sentence.

"We can't be friends, Mr. Wrandall," she said, suddenly serious. "The pretence would be a mockery. We are all better off if we allow our paths, our interests to diverge to-day."

"Perhaps you are right," said he, compressing his lips.

"I believe that Vivian and I could--but no! I won't go so far as to say that either. There is something genuine about her. Strange to say, I have never disliked her."

"If you had made the slightest effort to like us, no doubt we could have--"

"My dear Mr. Wrandall," she interrupted quickly, "I credit YOU with the desire to be fair and just to me. You have tried to like me. You have even deceived yourself at times. I--but why these gentle recriminations? We merely prolong an unfortunate contest between antagonistic natures, with no hope of genuine peace being established. I do not regret that I am your daughter-in-law, nor do I believe that you would regret it if I had not been the daughter of Sebastian Gooch."

"Your father was as little impressed with my son as I was with his daughter," said Redmond Wrandall drily. "I am forced to confess that he was the better judge. We had the better of the bargain."

"I believe you mean it, Mr. Wrandall," she said, a note of gratitude in her voice. "Good-bye. Mr. Carroll will see you to-morrow." She glanced quickly about the room. "I shall send for--for certain articles that are no longer required in conducting the business of Wrandall & Co."

With a quaint little smile, she indicated the two photographs of herself.

"By Jove, Sara," burst out Leslie abruptly. "I wish you'd let ME have that Gipsy Mab picture. I've always been dotty over it, don't you know. Ripping study."

Her lip curled slightly.

"As a matter of fact," he explained conclusively, "Chal often said he'd leave it to me when he died. In a joking way, of course, but I'm sure he meant it."

"You may have it, Leslie," she said slowly. It is doubtful if he correctly interpreted the movement of her head as she uttered the words.

"Thanks," said he. "I'll hang it in my den, if you don't object."

"We shall expect Mr. Carroll to-morrow, Sara," said his father, with an air of finality. "Good-bye. May I ask what plans you are making for the winter?"

"They are very indefinite."

"I say, Sara, why don't you get married?" asked Leslie, surveying the Gipsy Mab photograph with undisguised admiration as he held it at arm's length. "Ripping!" This to the picture.

She paused near the door to stare at him for a moment, unutterable scorn in her eyes.

"I've had a notion you were pretty keen about Brandy Booth," he went on amiably.

She caught her breath. There was an instant's hesitation on her part before she replied.

"You have never been very smart at making love guesses, Leslie," she said. "It's a trick you haven't acquired."

He laughed uncomfortably. "Neat stroke, that."

Following her into the corridor outside the offices, he pushed the elevator bell for her.

"I meant what I said, Sara," he remarked, somewhat doggedly. "You ought to get married. Chal didn't leave much for you to cherish. There's no reason why you should go on like this, living alone and all that sort of thing. You're young and beautiful and--"

"Oh, thank you, Leslie," she cried out sharply.

"You see, it's going to be this way: Hetty will probably marry Booth. That's on dit, I take it. You're depending on her for companionship. Well, she'll quit you cold after she's married. She will--"

She interrupted him peremptorily.

"If Challis did nothing else for me, Leslie, he at least gave me you to cherish. Once more, good-bye."

The elevator stopped for her. He strolled back to his office with a puzzled frown on his face. She certainly was inexplicable!

The angry red faded from her cheeks as she sped homeward in the automobile. Her thoughts were no longer of Leslie but of another... She sighed and closed her eyes, and her cheeks were pale.

Workmen from a picture dealer's establishment were engaged in hanging a full length portrait in the long living-room of her apartment when she reached home. She had sent to the country for Booth's picture of Hetty, and was having it hung in a conspicuous place. For a long time she stood in the middle of the room, studying the canvas. Hetty's Irish blue eyes seemed to return the scrutiny, a questioning look in their painted depths. The warm, half smiling lips appeared to be on the point of putting into words the eager question that lay in her wondering eyes.

Passing the open library door, Sara paused for an instant to peer within. Then she went on down the hall to her own sitting-room. The canary was singing glibly in his cage by the window-side.

She threw aside her furs, and, without removing her hat, passed into the bed-chamber at the left of the cosy little boudoir. This was Hetty's room. Her own was directly opposite. On the girl's dressing-table, leaning against the broad, low mirror, stood the unframed photograph of a man. With a furtive glance over her shoulder, Sara crossed to the table and took up the picture in her gloved hand. For a long time she stood there gazing into the frank, good-looking face of Brandon Booth. She breathed faster; her hand shook; her eyes were strained as if by an inward suggestion of pain.

She shook her head slowly, as if in final renunciation of a secret hope or the banishment of an unwelcome desire, and resolutely replaced the photograph. Her lips were almost white as she turned away and re-entered the room beyond.

"He belongs to her," she said, unconsciously speaking aloud; "and he is like all men. She must not be unhappy."

Presently she entered the library. She had exchanged her tailor-suit for a dainty house-gown. Hetty was still seated in the big lounging chair, before the snapping fire, apparently not having moved since she looked in on passing a quarter of an hour before. One of the girl's legs was curled up under her, the other swung loose; an elbow rested on the arm of the chair, and her cheek was in her hand.

Coming softly up from behind, Sara leaned over the back of the chair and put her hands under her friend's chin, tenderly, lovingly. Hetty started and shivered.

"Oh, Sara, how cold your hands are!"

She grasped them in her own and fondly stroked them, as if to restore warmth to the long, slim fingers which gave the lie to Mrs. Coburn's declarations.

"I've been thinking all morning of what you and Brandon proposed to me last night, dear," said Sara, looking straight over the girl's head, the dark, languorous, mysterious glow filling her eyes. "It is good of you both to want me, but--"

"Now don't say 'but,' Sara," cried Hetty. "We mean it, and you must let us have our way."

"It would be splendid to be near you all the time, dear; it would be wonderful to live with you as you so generously propose, but I cannot do it. I must decline."

"And may I ask why you decline to live with me?" demanded Hetty resentfully.

"Because I love you so dearly," said Sara.


(THE END)
George Barr McCutcheon's Novel: Hollow of Her Hand

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