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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Hollow Of Her Hand - Chapter 9. Hawkright's Model
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The Hollow Of Her Hand - Chapter 9. Hawkright's Model Post by :catalin Category :Long Stories Author :George Barr Mccutcheon Date :May 2012 Read :1654

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The Hollow Of Her Hand - Chapter 9. Hawkright's Model


Brandon Booth took a small cottage on the upper road, half way between the village and the home of Sara Wrandall, and not far from the abhorred "back gate" that swung in the teeth of her connections by marriage. He set up his establishment in half a day and, being settled, betook himself off to dine with Sara and Hetty. All his household cares, like the world, rested snugly on the shoulders of an Atlas named Pat, than whom there was no more faithful servitor in all the earth, nor in the heavens, for that matter, if we are to accept his own estimate of himself. In any event, he was a treasure. Booth's house was always in order. Try as he would, he couldn't get it out of order. Pat's wife saw to that. She was the cook, housekeeper, steward, seamstress, nurse and everything else except the laundress, and she would have been that if Booth hadn't put his foot down on it. He was rather finicky about his bosoms, it seems--and his cuffs, as well.

Pat and Mary had been in the Booth family since the flood, so to speak. As far back as Brandon could remember, the quaint Irishman had been the same wrinkled, nut-brown, merry-eyed comedian that he was to-day, and Mary the same serene, blarneying wife of the man. They were not a day older than they were in the beginning. He used to wonder if Methuselah knew them. When he set up bachelor quarters for himself in New York, his mother bestowed these priceless domestic treasures upon him. They journeyed up from Philadelphia and complacently took charge of his destinies; no matter which way they led or how diversified they may have been in conception, Brandon's destinies always came safely around the circle to the starting point with Pat and Mary atop of them, as chipper as you please and none the worse for erosion.

They stoutly maintained that one never gets too old to learn, a conclusion that Brandon sometimes resented.

He had been obliged to discharge three chauffeurs because Pat did not get on well with them, and he had found it quite impossible to keep a dog for the simple reason that Mary insisted on keeping a cat--a most unamiable, belligerent cat at that. He would have made home a hell for any well-connected dog.

As he swung jauntily down the tree-lined road that led to Sara's portals, Booth was full of the joy of living. Dusk was falling. A soft bronze glowed in the western sky. Over the earth lay the tranquil purple of spent refulgence, the after-glow of a red day, for the sun had shone hot since early morn through a queer, smoky screen of haze. There was a deep stillness over everything. Indolent Nature slept in the shadows, as if at rest after the weary day, with scarcely a leaf stirring. And yet there was a subtle coolness in the air, the feel of a storm that was yet unborn--the imperceptible shudder of a tempest that was drawing its first breath.

Before the night was half gone, the storm would be upon them, to revel for a while and then pass on, leaving behind it the dank smell of a grateful earth.

But Booth had no thought for the thing that was afar off. He was thinking of the quarter-of-an-hour that came next in the wheel of time, whose minutes were to check off the results of a fortnight's anticipation. He had not seen either of the ladies of Southlook in the past two weeks, but he had been under the spell of them so sharply that they were seldom out of his thoughts.

Sara was at the bottom of the terrace, moving among the flower beds in the formal garden. He distinguished her from a distance: a slender, graceful figure in black. A black scarf edged with maribou covered her shoulders, the line of a white neck separating it from the raven hue of her hair. He paused at the lower gate to look. Then his gaze was drawn to the gleaming white figure at the top of the terrace, outlined distinctly against the blue-black sky that hung over the Sound. Hetty stood there, straight and motionless, looking out over the water. So still was the evening wind that not a flutter of her soft gown was noticeable. She was like a statue.

At the sound of his footsteps on the gravel, Sara looked up and instantly smiled her welcome. When Sara smiled the heart of man responded, long in advance of his lips. Hers was the inviting, mysterious smile of the Orient, with the eyes half shaded by drooping, languorous lids: dusky, shadowy eyes that looked at you as through a veil, and yet were as clear as crystal once you lost the illusion.

"It is so nice to see you again," she said, giving him her hand.

"'My heart's in the highlands,'" he quoted, waving a vague tribute to the heavens. "And it's nice of you to see me," he added gracefully. Then he pointed up the terrace. "Isn't she a picture? 'Gad, it's lovely--the whole effect. That picture against the sky--"

He stopped short, and the sentence was never finished, although she waited for him to complete it before remarking:

"Her heart is not in the highlands."

"You mean--something's gone wrong--"

"Oh, no," she said, still smiling; "nothing like that. Her heart is in the lowlands. You would consider Washington Square to be in the lowlands, wouldn't you?"

"Oh, I see," he said slowly. "You mean she's thinking of Leslie."

"Who knows? It was a venture on my part, that's all. She may be thinking of you, Mr. Booth."

"Or some chap in old England, that's more like it," he retorted. "She can't be thinking of me, you know. No one ever thinks of me when I'm out of view. Out of sight, out of mind. No; she's thinking of something a long way off--or some one, if you choose to have it that way."

"In that case, it isn't good for her to be thinking of things so remote. Shall we shout 'halloa the house'?"

He shot a glance at her and responded gallantly: "If she isn't thinking of us, why should we be thinking of her? Is it too near the dinner hour for you to let me sit here and rest before attempting to climb all those steps? And will you sit beside me, as the good Omar might have said?" He was fanning himself with his straw hat.

She searched his face for a second, a smiling but inscrutable expression in her eyes, and then sat down on the rustic bench at the foot of the terrace.

"Why didn't you let me send the motor for you?" she asked, as he took his place beside her.

"I mean to have an appetite in the country," he said, taking a deep, full breath. "Motors don't aid the appetite. Aeroplanes are better. I had a flight with a friend up in Westchester last week. I was very hungry when I came down."

(Illustration: Hetty stood there, straight and motionless, looking out over the water)

"We'll all be flying before we really know it," said she. "Hetty tried it in France this spring. Have you seen Leslie this week?"

"I've been in Philadelphia for a few days. Is he coming out on Friday?"

"Oh, yes. He comes so often nowadays that we call him a commuter."

"Attractive spot, this," said he, with a significant glance up the terrace.

"So it would appear."

"He's really keen about her?"

She did not reply, but her smile meant more than words.

"I am eager to get at the portrait," said he, after a moment.

"Leslie tells me that you want to do me also," said she carelessly.

He flushed. "Confound him! I suppose it annoys you, Mrs. Wrandall. He shouldn't carry tales."

"But do you?"

"I should say I do," he cried warmly. "For my own pleasure and satisfaction, you understand. There's nothing I'd like better."

"We'll see how successfully you flatter Hetty," said she. "If it is possible to make her prettier than she really is, you may paint me. I shall be the first to fall at your feet and implore you to make me beautiful."

His eyes gleamed. "If I fail in that," said he warmly, "it will be because I am without integrity."

Again she smiled upon him with half-closed, shadowy eyes, and shook her head. Then she arose.

"Let us go in. Hetty is eager to see you again."

They started up the terrace. His face clouded.

"I have had a feeling all along that she'd rather not have this portrait painted, Mrs. Wrandall. A queer sort of feeling that she doesn't just like the idea of being put on canvas."

"Nonsense," she said, without looking at him.

"Of course, I could understand her not caring to give up the time to it. It's a nuisance, I know. But it isn't that sort of feeling I have about her attitude. There's something else. Doesn't she like me?"

"Of course she does," she exclaimed. "How ridiculous. She will love it, once the picture is under way. It is the beginning of it that disturbs her. Isn't that always the way?"

"I am afraid you don't know women," said he banteringly.

"By the way, have you been able to recall where you first saw her, or is your memory still a blank?" she asked suddenly.

"I can't think where it was or when," said he, "but I am absolutely positive I've seen her before. Her face is not the kind one forgets, you know."

"It may come to you unexpectedly."

"It's maddening, not to be able to remember."

The dusk of night hid the look of relief that came into her eyes.

Hetty met them at the top of the steps. The electric porch lights had just been turned on by the butler. The girl stood in the path of the light. Booth was never to forget the loveliness of her in that moment. He carried the image with him on the long walk home through the black night. (He declined Sara's offer to send him over in the car for the very reason that he wanted the half-hour of solitude in which to concentrate all the impressions she had made on his fancy.)

The three of them stood there for a few minutes, awaiting the butler's announcement. Sara's arm was about Hetty's shoulders. He was so taken up with the picture they presented that he scarcely heard their light chatter. They were types of loveliness so full of contrast that he marvelled at the power of Nature to create women in the same mould and yet to model so differently.

They were as near alike in height, figure and carriage as two women could be, and yet there was a subtle distinction that left him conscious of the fact that two vastly different strains of blood ran through their veins. Apart, he would not have perceived this marked difference in them. Hetty represented the violet, Sara the pansy. The distinction may be subtile. However, it was the estimate he formed in that moment of comparison.

The English girl's soft white gown was cut low in the neck, her shapely arms were bare. Sara's black covered her arms and shoulders, even to the slender throat. The hair of both was black and rich and alive with the gloss of health. The eyes of one were blue and velvety, even in the glare of light that fell from above; those of the other were black, Oriental, mysterious.

As they entered the vestibule, a servant came up with the word that Miss Castleton was wanted at the telephone, "long distance from New York."

The girl stopped in her tracks. Booth looked at her in mild surprise, a condition which gave way an instant later to perplexity. The look of annoyance in her eyes could not be disguised or mistaken.

"Ask him to call me up later, Watson," she said quietly.

"This is the third time he has called, Miss Castleton," said the man. "You were dressing, if you please, ma'am, the first time--"

"I will come," she interrupted sharply, with a curious glance at Sara, who for some reason avoided meeting Booth's gaze.

"Tell him we shall expect him on Friday," said Mrs. Wrandall.

"By George!" thought Booth, as she left them. "I wonder if it can be Leslie. If it IS--well, he wouldn't be flattered if he could have seen the look in her eyes."

Later on, he had no trouble in gathering that it WAS Leslie Wrandall who called, but he was very much in the dark as to the meaning of that expressive look. He only knew that she was in the telephone room for ten minutes or longer, and that all trace of emotion was gone from her face when she rejoined them with a brief apology for keeping them waiting.

He left at ten-thirty, saying good-night to them on the terrace. Sara walked to the steps with him.

"Don't you think her voice is lovely?" she asked. Hetty had sung for them.

"I dare say," he responded absently. "Give you my word, though, I wasn't thinking of her voice. SHE is lovely."

He walked home as if in a dream. The spell was on him.

Far in the night, he started up from the easy chair in which he had been smoking and dreaming and racking his brain by turns.

"By Jove!" he exclaimed aloud. "I remember! I've got it! And to-morrow I'll prove it."

Then he went to bed, with the storm from the sea pounding about the house, and slept serenely until Pat and Mary wondered whether he meant to get up at all.

"Pat," said he at breakfast, "I want you to go to the city this morning and fetch out all of the STUDIOS you can find about the place. The old ones are in that Italian hall seat and the late ones are in the studio. Bring all of them."

"There's a divvil of a bunch of thim," said Pat ruefully.

He was not to begin sketching the figure until the following day. After luncheon, however, he had an appointment to inspect Hetty's wardrobe, ostensibly for the purpose of picking out a gown for the picture. As a matter of fact, he had decided the point to his own satisfaction the night before. She should pose for him in the dainty white dress she had worn on that occasion.

While they were going over the extensive assortment of gowns, with Sara as the judge from whom there seemed to be no appeal, he casually inquired if she had ever posed before.

Two ladies' maids were engaged in flinging the costly garments about as if they represented so much rubbish. The floor was littered with silks and satins and laces. He was accustomed to this ruthless handling of exquisite fabrics by eager ladies of wealth: it was one way these pampered women had of showing their contempt for possession. Gowns came from everywhere by the armload; from closets, presses and trunks, ultimately landing in a conglomerate heap on the floor when cast aside as undesirable by the artist, the model and the censor.

He watched her closely as he put the question. She was holding up a beautiful point lace creation for his inspection, and there was a pleading smile on her lips. It must have been her favourite gown. The smile faded away. The hand that dangled the garment before his eyes suddenly became motionless, as if paralysed. In the next instant, she recovered herself, and, giving the lace a quick fillip that sent its odour of sachet leaping to his nostrils, responded with perfect composure.

"Isn't there a distinction between posing for an artist, and sitting for one's portrait?" she asked.

He was silent. The fact that he did not respond seemed to disturb her after a moment or two. She made the common mistake of pressing the question.

"Why do you ask?" was her inquiry. When it was too late she wished she had not uttered the words. He had caught the somewhat anxious note in her voice.

"We always ask that, I think," he said. "It's a habit."

"Oh," she said doubtfully.

"And by the way, you haven't answered."

She was busy with the gown for a time. At last she looked him full in the face.

"That's true," she agreed; "I haven't answered, have I? No, Mr. Booth, I've never posed for a portrait. It is a new experience for me. You will have to contend with a great deal of stupidity on my part. But I shall try to be plastic."

He uttered a polite protest, and pursued the question no farther. Her answer had been so palpably evasive that it struck him as bald, even awkward.

Pat, disgruntled and irritable to the point of profanity,--he was a privileged character and might have sworn if he felt like it without receiving notice,--came shambling up the cottage walk late that afternoon, bearing two large, shoulder-sagging bundles. He had walked from the station,--a matter of half-a-mile,--and it was hot. His employer sat in the shady porch, viewing his approach.

"Have you got them?" he inquired.

Pat dropped the bundles on the lower step and stared, speechless. Then he mopped his drenched, turkey-red face with his handkerchief. He got his breath after a spell of contemptuous snorting.

"Have I got what?" he demanded sarcastically. "The measles?"

"The STUDIOS, Patrick," said Booth reprovingly.

"No, sor," said Pat; "I came absolutely empty-handed, as you may have seen, sor."

"I knew I couldn't be mistaken. I was confident I saw nothing in your hands."

"I kept thim closed, sor, so's you couldn't see what was r'ally in thim. I've been wid you long enough, sor, to know how you hate the sight av blisthers."

"They must be quite a novelty to you, Patrick. I should think you'd be proud of them."

"Where am I to put them, sor?"

"The blisters?"

"Yis, sor."

"On this table, if you please. And you might cut the strings while you're about it."

Pat put the bundles on the wicker table and cut the heavy twine in dignified silence. Carefully rolling it up in a neat ball, he stuck it in his pocket. Then he faced his employer.

"Is there annyt'ing else, sor?"

"I think not, at present."

"Not aven a cup av tea, sor?"

"No, thanks."

"Thin, if you will excuse me, I'll go about me work. I've had a pleasant day off, sor, thanks to ye. It's hard to go back to work afther such a splindid spell of idleness. Heigho! I'd like to be a gintleman av leisure all the time, that I would, sor. The touch I've had av it to-day may be the sp'iling av me. If you're a smart man, Mr. Brandon Booth, ye'll not be letting me off for a holiday like this again very soon."

Booth laughed outright. Pat's face wrinkled into a slow, forgiving grin.

"I love you, Pat," cried the painter, "in spite of the way you bark at me."

"It's a poor dog that don't know his own master," said Pat magnanimously. "Whin you're t'rough wid the magazines, I'll carry thim down to the cellar, sor."

"What's the matter with the attic?"

"Nothing at all, at all. I was only finking they'd be handier for you to get at in the cellar. And it's a dom sight cooler down there."

With that he departed, blinking slyly.

The young man drew a chair up to the table and began the task of working out the puzzle that now seemed more or less near to solution. He had a pretty clear idea as to the period he wanted to investigate. To the best of his recollection, the Studios published three or four years back held the key. He selected the numbers and began to run through them. One after another they were cast aside without result. In any other cause he would have tired of the quest, but in this his curiosity was so commanding that he stuck to the task without complaint. He was positive in his mind that what he desired was to be found inside the covers of one of these magazines. He was searching for a vaguely remembered article on one of the iesser-known English painters who had given great promise at the time it was published but who dropped completely out of notice soon afterward because of a mistaken notion of his own importance. If Booth's memory served him right, the fellow came a cropper, so to speak, in trying to ride rough shod over public opinion, and went to the dogs. He had been painting sensibly up to that time, but suddenly went in for the most violent style of impressionism. That was the end of him.

There had been reproductions of his principal canvases, with sketches and studies in charcoal. One of these pictures had made a lasting impression on Booth: the figure of a young woman in deep meditation standing in the shadow of a window casement from which she looked out upon the world apparently without a thought of it. A slender young woman in vague reds and browns, whose shadowy face was positively illuminated by a pair of wonderful blue eyes.

He came upon it at last. For a long time he sat there gazing at the face of Hetty Castleton, a look of half-wonder, half-triumph in his eyes. There could be no doubt as to the identity of the subject. The face was hers, the lovely eyes were hers: the velvety, dreamy, soulful eyes that had haunted him for years, as he now believed. In no sense could the picture be described as a portrait. It was a study, deliberately arranged and deliberately posed for in the artist's studio. He was mystified. Why should she, the daughter of Colonel Castleton, the grand-niece of an earl, be engaged in posing for what evidently was meant to be a commercial product of this whilom artist?

He remembered the painting itself as he had seen it in the exhibition at the National Academy when this fellow--Hawkright was his name--was at the top of his promise as a painter. He remembered going back to it again and again and marvelling at the subtle, delicate beauty of the thing. Now he knew that it was the face, and not the art of the painter that had affected him so enduringly. The fellow had shown other paintings, but he recalled that none of them struck him save this one. After all, it WAS the face that made the picture memorable.

Turning from this skilfully coloured full page reproduction, he glanced at first casually over the dozen or more sketches and studies on the succeeding pages. Many of them represented studies of women's heads and figures, with little or no attempt to obtain a likeness. Some were half-draped, showing in a sketchy way the long graceful lines of the half-nude figure, of bare shoulders and breasts, of gauze-like fabrics that but illy concealed impressive charms. Suddenly his eyes narrowed and a sharp exclamation fell from his lips. He bent closer to the pages and studied the drawings with redoubled interest.

Then he whistled softly to himself, a token of simple amazement. The head of each of these remarkable studies suggested in outline the head and features of Hetty Castleton! She had been Hawkright's model!

The next morning at ten he was at Southlook, arranging his easel and canvas in the north end of the long living-room, where the light from the tall French windows afforded abundant and well-distributed light for the enterprise in hand. Hetty had not yet appeared. Sara, attired in a loose morning gown, was watching him from a comfortable chair in the corner, one shapely bare arm behind her head; the free hand was gracefully employed in managing a cigarette. He was conscious of the fact that her lazy, half-alert gaze was upon him all the time, although she pretended to be entirely indifferent to the preparations. Dimly he could see the faint smile of interest on her lips.

"By Jove," he exclaimed with sudden fervour, "I wish I could get you just as you are, Mrs. Wrandall. Do you mind if I sketch you in--just to preserve the pose for the future--"

"Never!" she cried and forthwith changed her position. She laughed at the look of disappointment in his face.

"You've no idea how--er--attractive--" he began confusedly, but broke off with a laugh. "I beg your pardon. I couldn't help it."

"The potent appeal of a cigarette," she surmised shrewdly.

"Not at all," he said promptly. He was a bit red in the face as he turned to busy himself with the tubes and brushes. When he glanced at her again, he found that she had resumed her former attitude.

Hetty came in at that moment, calm, serene and lovelier than ever in the clear morning light. She was wearing the simple white gown he had chosen the day before. If she was conscious of the rather intense scrutiny he bestowed upon her as she gave him her hand in greeting, she did not appear to be in the least disturbed.

"You may go away, Sara," she said firmly. "I shall be too dreadfully self-conscious if you are looking on."

Booth looked at her rather sharply. Sara indolently abandoned her comfortable chair and left them alone in the room.

"Shall we try a few effects, Miss Castleton?" he inquired, after a period of constraint that had its effect on both of them.

"I am in your hands," she said simply.

He made suggestions. She fell into the positions so easily, so naturally, so effectively, that he put aside all previous doubts and blurted out:

"You have posed before, Miss Castleton."

She smiled frankly. "But not for a really truly portrait," she said. "Such as this is to be."

He hesitated an instant. "I think I recall a canvas by Maurice Hawkright," he said, and at once experienced a curious sense of perturbation. It was not unlike fear.

Instead of betraying the confusion or surprise he expected, Miss Castleton merely raised her eyebrows inquiringly.

"What has that to do with me, Mr. Booth?" she asked.

He laughed awkwardly.

"Don't you know his work?" he inquired, with a slight twist of his lip.

"I may have seen his pictures," she replied, puckering her brow as if in reflection.

He stared for a second.

"Why do you look at me in that way, Mr. Booth?" she cried, with a nervous little laugh.

"Do you mean to say you--er--that is, you don't know Hawkright's work?"

"Is that so very strange?" she inquired plaintively.

"By Jove," he muttered, quite taken aback. "I don't understand. I'm flabbergasted."

"Please explain yourself," she said stiffly.

"You must have a double somewhere, Miss Castleton," said he, still staring. "Some one who looks enough like you to be--"

"Oh," she cried, with a bright smile of understanding. "I see! Yes, I have a double--a really remarkable double. Have you never seen Hetty Glynn, the actress?"

"I am sure I have not," he said, taking a long breath. It was one of relief, he remembered afterward. "If she is so like you as all that, I COULDN'T have forgotten her."

"She is quite unknown, I believe," she went on, ignoring the implied compliment. "A chorus-girl, or something like that. They say she is wonderfully like me--or was, at least, a few years ago."

He was silent for a few minutes, studying her face and figure with the critical eye of the artist. As he turned to the canvas with his crayon point, he remarked, with an unmistakable note of relief in his voice:

"That explains everything. It must have been Hetty Glynn who posed for all those things of Hawkright's."

"I dare say," said she indifferently.

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CHAPTER VIII. IN WHICH HETTY IS WEIGHEDBooth 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