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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Hollow Of Her Hand - Chapter 8. In Which Hetty Is Weighed
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The Hollow Of Her Hand - Chapter 8. In Which Hetty Is Weighed Post by :catalin Category :Long Stories Author :George Barr Mccutcheon Date :May 2012 Read :1965

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The Hollow Of Her Hand - Chapter 8. In Which Hetty Is Weighed

CHAPTER VIII. IN WHICH HETTY IS WEIGHED

Booth and Leslie returned to the city on Tuesday. The artist left behind him a "memory sketch" of Sara Wrandall, done in the solitude of his room long after the rest of the house was wrapped in slumber on the first night of his stay at Southlook. It was as sketchily drawn as the one he had made of Hetty, and quite as wonderful in the matter of faithfulness, but utterly without the subtle something that made the other notable. The craftiness of the artist was there, but the touch of inspiration was lacking.

Sara was delighted. She was flattered, and made no pretence of disguising the fact.

The discussion which followed the exhibition of the sketch at luncheon, was very animated. It served to excite Leslie to such a degree that he brought forth from his pocket the treasured sketch of Hetty, for the purpose of comparison.

The girl who had been genuinely enthusiastic over the picture of Sara, and who had not been by way of knowing that the first sketch existed, was covered with confusion. Embarrassment and a shy sense of gratification were succeeded almost at once by a feeling of keen annoyance. The fact that the sketch was in Leslie's possession--and evidently a thing to be cherished--took away all the pleasure she may have experienced during the first few moments of interest.

Booth caught the angry flash in her eyes, preceding the flush and unaccountable pallor that followed almost immediately. He felt guilty, and at the same time deeply annoyed with Leslie. Later on he tried to explain, but the attempt was a lamentable failure. She laughed, not unkindly, in his face.

Leslie had refused to allow the sketch to leave his hand. If she could have gained possession of it, even for an instant, the thing would have been torn to bits. But it went back into his commodious pocket-book, and she was too proud to demand it of him.

She became oddly sensitive to Booth's persistent though inoffensive scrutiny as time wore on. More than once she had caught him looking at her with a fixedness that betrayed perplexity so plainly that she could not fail to recognise an underlying motive. He was vainly striving to refresh his memory: that was clear to her. There is no mistaking that look in a person's eyes. It cannot be disguised.

He was as deeply perplexed as ever when the time came for him to depart with Leslie. He asked her point blank on the last evening of his stay if they had ever met before, and she frankly confessed to a short memory for faces. It was not unlikely, she said, that he had seen her in London or in Paris, but she had not the faintest recollection of having seen him before their meeting in the road.

Urged by Sara, she had reluctantly consented to sit to him for a portrait during the month of June. He put the request in such terms that it did not sound like a proposition. It was not surprising that he should want her for a subject; in fact, he put it in such a way that she could not but feel that she would be doing him a great and enduring favour. She imposed but one condition: the picture was never to be exhibited. He met that, with bland magnanimity, by proffering the canvas to Mrs. Wrandall, as the subject's "next best friend," to "have and to hold so long as she might live," "free gratis," "with the artist's compliments," and so on and so forth, in airy good humour.

Leslie's aid had been solicited by both Sara and the painter in the final effort to overcome the girl's objections. He was rather bored about it, but added his voice to the general clamour. With half an eye one could see that he did not relish the idea of Hetty posing for days to the handsome, agreeable painter. Moreover, it meant that Booth, who could afford to gratify his own whims, would be obliged to spend a month or more in the neighbourhood, so that he could devote himself almost entirely to the consummation of this particular undertaking. Moreover, it meant that Vivian's portrait was to be temporarily disregarded.

Sara Wrandall was quick to recognise the first symptoms of jealousy on the part of her brother-in-law. She had known him for years. In that time she had been witness to a dozen of his encounters in the lists of love, or what he chose to designate as love, and had seen him emerge from each with an unscarred heart and a smiling visage. Never before had he shown the slightest sign of jealousy, even when the affair was at its rosiest. The excellent ego which mastered him would not permit him to forget himself so far as to consider any one else worthy of a feeling of jealousy. But now he was flying an alien flag. He was turning against himself and his smug convictions. He was at least annoyed, if not jealous. Doubtless he was surprised at himself; perhaps he wondered what had come over him.

Sara noted these signs of self-abasement (it could be nothing else where a Wrandall was concerned), and smiled inwardly. The new idol of the Wrandalls was in love, selfishly, insufferably in love as things went with all the Wrandalls. They hated selfishly, and so they loved. Her husband had been their king. But their king was dead, long live the king! Leslie had put on the family crown,--a little jauntily, perhaps,--cocked over the eye a bit, so to speak--but it was there just the same, annoyingly plain to view.

Sara had tried to like him. He had been her friend, the only one she could claim among them all. And yet, beneath his genial allegiance, she could detect the air of condescension, the bland attitude of a superior who defends another's cause for the reason that it gratifies Nero. She experienced a thrill of malicious joy in contemplating the fall of Nero. He would bring down his house about his head, and there would be no Rome to pay the fiddler.

In the train that Tuesday morning, Booth elected to chaff his friend on the progress of his campaign. They were seated opposite to each other in the almost empty parlour car.

"Buck up, old chap," he counselled scoffingly. "Don't look so disconsolate. You're coming out again at the end of the week."

Leslie had been singularly reticent for a matter of ten miles or more after leaving the little station behind. His attention seemed to be engaged strictly in the study of objects beyond the car window.

"What's that?" he demanded curtly.

"I say you're lucky enough to be asked again for the end of the--"

"I've got a standing invitation, if that's what you mean. Sara gives me a meal ticket, as it were. Nothing extraordinary in my going out whenever I like, is there?" His manner was a trifle offish.

Booth laughed. "In spite of your disagreeable remark, I wish you good luck, old man."

"What the devil are you driving at, Brandy?"

"I only meant to cheer you up a bit, that's all."

"Thanks!"

There was another interval of silence. Leslie furtively studied the face of his friend, who had resumed his dreamy contemplation of the roof of the car, his hands clasped behind his head, his legs outstretched.

"I say, Brandy," he ventured at last, a trace of embarrassment in his manner, "if you've nothing better to do, come down and dine with us to-night--en famille. Viv said over the 'phone this morning that we are dining alone in state. Come along, old chap, and wake us up. What say?"

A clever mind-reader could have laid bare the motive in this cordial, even eager invitation. He was seeking to play Vivian against Hetty in the game, which seemed to have taken on a new turn.

Booth was not a mind-reader, although in jest he had posed as one. "I'm quite sure I've nothing better to do," he said. "I'd suggest, however, that you let the invitation come from some one in authority. Your mother, for instance."

"Nonsense," cried the other blithely. "You know you've got a meal ticket at our house, good for a million punches. Still I'll have Vivian call you up this afternoon."

"If she wants me, I'll come," said Booth in the most matter-of-fact way.

Leslie settled down with a secret sigh of relief. He regained his usual loquaciousness. The points of his little moustache resumed their uprightness.

"How do you like Sara?" he asked. It was a casual question, with no real meaning behind it as it was uttered. No sooner had it left his lips, however, than a new and rather staggering idea entered his mind,--a small thing at first but one that grew with amazing swiftness.

"She is splendid," said Booth warmly.

"I thought you'd like her," said Leslie, the idea growing apace: It did not occur to him that he might be nurturing disloyalty to the interests of his own sister. Things of that sort never bothered Leslie. When all was said and done, Vivian had but a slim chance at best, so why champion a faint hope? "Why don't you do a portrait of her? It would be a wonderful thing, old chap."

He sat up a trifle straighter in his chair.

"She hasn't asked me to, which is the best reason in the world.

"Oh, I can fix that." His lively imagination was full of it now.

"Thanks. Don't bother."

"And there's this to be said for a portrait of Sara," went on Leslie, rather too eagerly: "she wouldn't object to having it exhibited in the galleries. 'Gad, it would do you a world of good, Brandy."

The other's eyes narrowed. "I suppose I am to infer that Mrs. Wrandall courts publicity."

"Not at all," cried the other impatiently. "What I mean is this: she's taken a fancy to you, and if her portrait could be the means of helping you--"

"Oh, cut that out, Les,--cut it out," growled Booth coldly.

"Well, in any event, if you want to paint her, I can fix it for you," announced his companion.

"If you don't mind, old chap, I'll tackle Miss Castleton first," said Booth, dismissing the matter with a yawn.

"I hate the word tackle," said Leslie.

On a bright, sunny afternoon two weeks later, Mrs. Redmond Wrandall received her most intimate friend in her boudoir. They were both in ample black. Mrs. Rowe-Martin, it seems, had suffered a recent bereavement--with an aspect of permanency,--in the loss of a four thousand dollar Airdale who had stopped traffic in Fifth Avenue for twenty minutes while a sympathetic crowd viewed his gory remains, and an unhappy but garrulous taxi-cab driver tried to account for his crime. He never even thought of the insanity dodge. The Airdale was given a most impressive funeral and was buried in pomp with all his medals, ribbons, tags, collars and platinum leashes, but minus a few of the uncollected parts of his anatomy. While it had been a complete catastrophe, he was by no means a complete carcass.

Be that as it may, his mistress went into mourning, denying herself so many diversions that not a few of her friends became alarmed and advised her husband to put her in a sanitarium. He was willing, poor chap, but not she. She couldn't see the sense of confining her grief to the four walls of a sanitarium while the four winds of heaven were at her disposal.

The most distressing feature of the great Airdale's taking-off lay in the fact that his descendants--he had several sets of great-grandchildren--appeared to be uncommonly ordinary brutes, without a symptom of good breeding in the lot of them. They were so undeviatingly gauche and middle-class, that already the spiteful tongues of envy had begun to question his right to the medals and ribbons acquired at the bench shows, where Mrs. Rowe-Martin was considered one of the immortals. She could have got a blue ribbon on a yellow dog any time. Of course, in defence of her exotic Airdale, she unblinkingly fell back on the paraphrase: "It's a wise father that knows his own son"; or the other way round, just as you please.

Mrs. Rowe-Martin professedly was middle-aged--that is to say, just rounding fifty. As a woman is always fifty until she is sixty, just as it is nine o'clock until the stroke of ten, there may be some question as to which end of the middle-aged period she was rounding, but as that isn't material to the development of this story, we will give her the benefit of the doubt and merely say that sensibly she dressed in black.

She was Mrs. Wrandall's closest friend and confidante. It was Mrs. Rowe-Martin who rushed over and gave the smelling salts to Mrs. Wrandall when that excellent lady collapsed on hearing that her son Challis was going to marry the daughter of old Sebastian Gooch. It was she who acted as spokeswoman for the distressed mother and told the world--that is to say, THEIR world--that Sara was a scheming, designing creature, whose sole aim in life was to get into the smart set by the easiest way. It was she who comforted Mrs. Wrandall, after the lamentable deed was done, by proclaiming from the house-tops that old man Gooch's daughter should never enter society if she could prevent it, and went so far as to invite Challis to all of her affairs without asking his wife to accompany him, quite as if she didn't know that he had a wife. (In speaking of her to Challis, she invariably alluded to Sara as Miss Gooch, for something over a year after the wedding--and might have gone on for ever had not Mrs. Wrandall, senior, upset everything by giving a reception in honour of her daughter-in-law: a bolt from a clear sky, you may be sure, that left Mrs. Rowe-Martin stunned and bleeding on the battlefield of a mistaken cause.) She never quite got over that bit of treachery on the part of her very best friend, although she made the best of it by slyly confiding to other stupefied persons that Challis's father had taken the bit in his mouth,--God knows why!--and that Mrs. Wrandall thought best to humour him for the time being, at least. And it was she who came to Mrs. Wrandall in her greatest trial and performed the gentlest deeds that one woman can do for another when all the world has gone black and hateful to her. When you put her to the real test, a woman will always rise above herself, no matter how lofty she may have considered herself beforehand.

They were drinking tea, with the lemon left out.

"My dear," said Mrs. Rowe-Martin, "I quite agree with you. Leslie should be thinking of it."

"It means so much to me, Harriet, his getting the right sort of girl. I feel confident that he is interested--very deeply interested in Miss Castleton."

"I am so glad you like her."

"She is a dear."

"My sister has met her in London, and at one or two of the country places. I was inquiring only yesterday. When I mentioned that she is related to Lord Murgatroyd, Frances remembered her quite well. She sees a lot of them, you know, during the season," explained Mrs. Rowe-Martin affably.

Mrs. Wrandall concealed her curiosity. In the most casual way she remarked:

"I must ask Miss Castleton if she remembers Mrs. Roodleigh."

"Oh, I fancy she won't recall her," her friend made haste to say. "Young girls are not likely to remember elderly persons whom they meet--Oh, you might say in passing, for that's what it really is, you know."

"Still, if Frances knows the Murgatroyds so intimately it isn't likely--"

"Did I say she knew them intimately?" protested the other, somewhat plaintively. "How like me! So stupid! As a matter of fact, my dear, I don't believe Frances knows them at all--except as one knows people in a general sort of way. Drawing-rooms, you know, and all that sort of thing. Of course, every one knows Lord and Lady Murgatroyd. Just as they might know the Duke of--well any one of the great dukes, for that matter."

"Or King George," added Mrs. Wrandall softly, without a perceptible trace of spite.

"She has met them, of course," said Mrs. Rowe-Martin defensively. Somehow, a defence was called for; she couldn't sit there and say nothing.

Mrs. Wrandall changed the subject, or at least divided it. She put the chaff aside, for that was what Mrs. Rowe-Martin's revelations amounted to.

"Leslie is such a steady, unimpressionable boy, you see," she said, apropos of nothing.

"And so good looking," added her friend beamingly.

"It wouldn't be like him to make a mistake where his own happiness and welfare are concerned," said the subject's mother, speaking more truth than she knew, but not more than Mrs. Rowe-Martin knew. That lady knew Leslie like a book.

"And he is really devoted to her?"

"I fear so," said her hostess, with a faint sigh. The other sighed also.

"My dear, it would be perfectly lovely. Why do you say that?"

"I suppose it's the way all mothers feel. Of course, I want to be sure that he is to be very, very happy."

"That is perfectly natural. And he WILL be happy."

If either of them recalled the strenuous efforts Mrs. Wrandall had made a couple of years before to get her only daughter married off to a degenerate young English duke, the thought was submerged in the present sea of sentimentality. It speaks well for Vivian's character that she flatly refused to be given in marriage, although it appeared to be the fashion at the time. It was the year of the coronation.

"Miss Castleton is a most uncommon girl," said Mrs. Wrandall, again apropos of nothing that had gone before.

"Most English girls are," agreed her friend, scenting something.

"I mean to say, she is so unlike the girls one sees in society. My husband says she's level-headed. Sound as a rivet, he also says. Nothing silly or flip about her, he adds when he is particularly enthusiastic, and he knows I hate the word 'flip.' Of course he means flippant. He is very much taken with her."

Mrs. Rowe-Martin pondered a moment before risking her next remark.

"I can't quite understand her taking up with Sara Gooch in this fashion. You know what I mean. Sara is the last person in the world you'd think a gently bred person would--" Here she pulled herself up with a jerk. "I mean, of course, a gently bred girl. Naturally she would appeal to men--and gently bred men, at that. But this present intimacy--well, isn't it rather extraordinary?"

Mrs. Wrandall drained her cup, without taking her eyes from the face of her friend.

"You must remember, my dear Harriet, that Miss Castleton looks upon Sara as a Wrandall, not a Gooch. She was the wife of a Wrandall. That covers everything so far as the girl is concerned. I dare say she finds Sara amusing, interesting, and we all know she is kindness itself. It doesn't surprise me that Miss Castleton admires her, or that she loves her. Sara has improved in the last seven or eight years." She said this somewhat loftily.

Mrs. Rowe-Martin was most amiable. "She has, indeed, thanks to propinquity."

"And her own splendid intelligence," added Mrs. Wrandall.

"Isn't it wonderful how superior they are when it comes to intelligence?" cried her friend, almost plaintively. "I've noticed it in shop-girls and manicures, over and over again."

"Perhaps you got the effect by contrast," said Mrs. Wrandall, pouring a little more tea into her friend's cup. Mrs. Rowe-Martin was silent. "Sara deserves a lot of credit. She has made a position for herself, a very decided position. We are all quite proud of her."

Mrs. Rowe-Martin was on very intimate terms with the Wrandall family skeleton. She could afford to be plain spoken.

"It is hard to reconcile your present attitude, my dear, to the position you held a few years ago. Heaven knows you weren't proud of her then. She was dirt beneath your feet."

"My dear Harriet," said Mrs. Wrandall, without so much as the flutter of an eyelid, "I am not saying that I would select her as a daughter-in-law, even to-day. Don't misunderstand me."

"I am not underestimating her splendid intelligence," said Mrs. Rowe-Martin sharply, and her hostess was so long in working it out that it was allowed to pass unresented. "I dare say she will marry again," went on the speaker blandly.

Sara's mother-in-law was startled.

"It's rather early to suggest such a thing, isn't it?" she asked reproachfully.

"Forgive me," cried Mrs. Rowe-Martin, but she did not attempt to unsay the words. She meant them to sink in when she uttered them. It was commonly predicted in society that Challis Wrandall's wife would further elevate herself by wedding the most dependable nobleman who came along, and without any appreciable consideration for the feelings of her late husband's family.

"It is quite natural--and right--that she should marry," said Mrs. Wrandall, after a moment's deliberation. "She is young and beautiful and we sincerely hope she will find some one--But, my dear, aren't we drifting? We were speaking of Leslie."

"And Miss Castleton. You are quite satisfied, then? You don't feel that he would be making a mistake?"

Mrs. Wrandall touched her handkerchief to the corners of her eyes.

"We could not possibly raise any objection to Miss Castleton, if that is what you mean, Harriet," she said.

"I am so glad you feel that way about it, my dear," said her friend, touching her handkerchief to her lips. "It would grieve me more than I can tell you if I thought you would have to go through with another experience like that of--Forgive me! I won't distress you by recalling those awful days. Poor, susceptible Challis!"

"No," said Mrs. Wrandall firmly; "Leslie is safe. We feel quite sure of him."

The visitor was reflective. "I suppose there is no doubt that Miss Castleton will accept him," she mused aloud.

"We are assuming, of course, that Leslie means to ask her," said Leslie's mother, with infinite patience.

"I only mentioned it because it is barely possible she may have other fish to fry."

"Fish?"

"A figure of speech, my dear."

And it set Mrs. Wrandall to thinking.

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