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- The Hollow of Her Hand - 1/75 -


[Illustration: "The black pile is mine, the gay pile is yours," she went on, turning toward the sleeping girl]

THE HOLLOW OF HER HAND

By GEORGE BARR McCUTCHEON

CONTENTS

I MARCH COMES IN LIKE THE LION

II THE PASSING OF A NIGHT

III HETTY CASTLETON

IV WHILE THE MOB WAITED

V DISCUSSING A SISTER-IN-LAW

VI SOUTHLOOK

VII A FAITHFUL CRAYON-POINT

VIII IN WHICH HETTY IS WEIGHED

IX HAWKRIGHT'S MODEL

X THE GHOST AT THE FEAST

XI MAN PROPOSES

XII THE APPROACH OF A MAN NAMED SMITH

XIII MR. WRANDALL PERJURES HIMSELF

XIV IN THE SHADOW OF THE MILL

XV SARA WRANDALL FINDS THE TRUTH

XVI THE SECOND ENCOUNTER

XVII CROSSING THE CHANNEL

XVIII RATTLING OLD BONES

XIX VIVIAN AIRS HER OPINIONS

XX ONCE MORE AT BURTON'S INN

XXI DISTURBING NEWS

XXII THE HOLLOW OF HER HAND

XXIII SARA WRANDALL'S DECISION

XXIV THE JURY OF FOUR

XXV RENUNCIATION

CHAPTER I

MARCH COMES IN LIKE THE LION

The train, which had roared through a withering gale of sleet all the way up from New York, came to a standstill, with many an ear-splitting sigh, alongside the little station, and a reluctant porter opened his vestibule door to descend to the snow-swept platform: a solitary passenger had reached the journey's end. The swirl of snow and sleet screaming out of the blackness at the end of the station-building enveloped the porter in an instant, and cut his ears and neck with stinging force as he turned his back against the gale. A pair of lonely, half-obscured platform lights gleamed fatuously at the top of their icy posts at each end of the station; two or three frost-encrusted windows glowed dully in the side of the building, while one shone brightly where the operator sat waiting for the passing of No. 33.

The train itself was dark. Frosty windows, pelted for miles by the furious gale, white outside but black within, protected the snug travellers who slept the sleep of the hurried and thought not of the storm that beat about their ears nor wondered at the stopping of the fast express at a place where it had never stopped before. Far ahead the panting engine shed from its open fire-box an aureole of glaring red as the stoker fed coal into its rapacious maw. The unblinking head-light threw its rays into the thick of the blinding snow storm, fruitlessly searching for the rails through drifts denser than fog and filled with strange, half-visible shapes.

An order had been issued for the stopping of the fast express at B--, a noteworthy concession in these days of premeditated haste. Not in the previous career of flying 33 had it even so much as slowed down for the insignificant little station, through which it swooped at midnight the whole year round. Just before pulling out of New York on this eventful night the conductor received a command to stop 33 at B---- and let down a single passenger, a circumstance which meant trouble for every despatcher along the line.

The woman who got down at B---- in the wake of the shivering but deferential porter, and who passed by the conductors without lifting her face, was without hand luggage of any description. She was heavily veiled, and warmly clad in furs. At eleven o'clock that night she had entered the compartment in New York. Throughout the thirty miles or more, she had sat alone and inert beside the snow-clogged window, peering through veil and frost into the night that whizzed past the pane, seeing nothing yet apparently intent on all that stretched beyond. As still, as immobile as death itself she had held herself from the moment of departure to the instant that brought the porter with the word that they were whistling for B---. Without a word she arose and followed him to the vestibule, where she watched him as he unfastened the outer door and lifted the trap. A single word escaped her lips and he held out his hand to receive the crumpled bill she clutched in her gloved fingers. He did not look at it. He knew that it would amply reward him for the brief exposure he endured on the lonely, wind-swept platform of a station, the name of which he did not know.

She took several uncertain steps in the direction of the station windows and stopped, as if bewildered. Already the engine was pounding the air with quick, vicious snorts in the effort to get under way; the vestibule trap and door closed with a bang; the wheels were creaking. A bitter wind smote her in the face; the wet, hurtling sleet crashed against the thin veil, blinding her.

The door of the waiting-room across the platform opened and a man rushed toward her.

"Mrs. Wrandall?" he called above the roar of the wind.

She advanced quickly.

"Yes."

"What a night!" he said, as much to himself as to her. "I'm sorry you would insist on coming to-night. To-morrow morning would have satisfied the--"

"Is this Mr. Drake?"

They were being blown through the door into the waiting-room as she put the question. Her voice was muffled. The man in the great fur coat put his weight against the door to close it.

"Yes, Mrs. Wrandall. I have done all that could be done under the circumstances. I am sorry to tell you that we still have two miles to go by motor before we reach the inn. My car is open,--I don't possess a limousine,--but if you will lie down in the tonneau you will find some protection from--"

She broke in sharply, impatiently. "Pray do not consider me, Mr. Drake. I am not afraid of the blizzard."

"Then we'd better be off," said he, a note of anxiety in his voice,--a certain touch of nervousness. "I drive my own car. The road is good, but I shall drive cautiously. Ten minutes, perhaps. I--I am sorry you thought best to brave this wretched--"

"I am not sorry for myself, Mr. Drake, but for you. You have been most kind. I did not expect you to meet me."

"I took the liberty of telephoning to you. It was well that I did it early in the evening. The wires are down now, I fear." He hesitated for a moment, staring at her as if trying to penetrate the thick, wet veil. "I may have brought you on a fool's errand. You see, I--I have seen Mr. Wrandall but once, in town somewhere, and I may be wrong. Still, the coroner,--and the sheriff,--seemed to think you should be notified,--I might say questioned. That is why I called you up. I trust, madam, that I am mistaken."

"Yes," she said shrilly, betraying the intensity of her emotion. It was as if she lacked the power to utter more than a single word, which signified neither acquiescence nor approval.

He was ill-at-ease, distressed. "I have engaged a room for you at the inn, Mrs. Wrandall. You did not bring a maid, I see. My wife will come over from our place to stay with you if you--"

She shook her head. "Thank you, Mr. Drake. It will not be necessary. I came alone by choice. I shall return to New York to-night."

"But you--why, you can't do that," he cried, holding back as they started toward the door. "No trains stop here after ten o'clock. The locals begin running at seven in the morning. Besides--"

She interrupted him. "May we not start now, Mr. Drake? I am--well,


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