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- The Hollow of Her Hand - 10/75 -

His family had resented their marriage. Father, mother and sister had objected to her from the beginning, not because she was unworthy, but because her tradespeople ancestry was not so remote as his. She found a curious sense of pleasure in returning to them the thing they prized so highly and surrendered to her with such bitterness of heart. She had not been good enough for him: that was their attitude. Now she was returning him to them, as one would return an article that had been tested and found to be worthless. She would have no more of him!

Leslie, three years younger than Challis, did not hold to the views that actuated the remaining members of the family in opposing her as an addition to the rather close corporation known far and wide as "the Wrandalls." He had stood out for her in a rather mild but none-the-less steadfast manner, blandly informing his mother on mere than one occasion that Sara was quite too good for Challis, any way you looked at it: an attitude which provoked sundry caustic references to his own lamentable shortcomings in the matter of family pride and--intelligence.

He and Sara had been good friends after a fashion. He was a bit of a snob but not much of a prig. She had the feeling about him that if he could be weaned away from the family he might stand for something fine in the way of character. But he was an adept at straddling fences, so that he was never fully on one side or the other, no matter which way he leaned.

He had not been deeply attached to his brother. Their ways were wide apart. All his life he had known Challis for what he was; his heart if not his hand was against him. From the first, he had regarded Sara's marriage as a bad bargain for her, and toward the last bluntly told her so. Not once but many times had he taken it upon himself to inform her that she was a fool to put up with all the beastly things Challis was doing. He characterised as infatuation the emotion she was prone to call love when they met to discuss the escapades of the careless Challis, for she always went to him with her troubles. In direct opposition to his counselling, she invariably forgave the erring lover who was her husband. Once Leslie had said to her, in considerable heat: "You act as if you were his mistress, instead of his wife. Mistresses have to forgive; wives don't." And she had replied: "Yes, but I'd much rather have him a lover than a husband." A remark which Leslie never quite fathomed, being somewhat literal himself.

Carroll, her lawyer, an elderly man of vast experience, was not surprised to find her quite calm and reasonable. He had come to know her very well in the past few years. He had been her father's lawyer up to the time of that excellent tradesman's demise, and he had settled the estate with such unusual despatch that the heirs,--there were many of them,--regarded him as an admirable person and--kept him busy ever afterward straightening out their own affairs. Which goes to prove that policy is often better than honesty.

"I quite understand, my dear, that while it is a dreadful shock to you, you are perfectly reconciled to the--er--to the--well, I might say the culmination of his troubles," said Mr. Carroll tactfully, after she had related for his benefit the story of the night's adventure, with reservation concerning the girl who slumbered in the room beyond.

"Hardly that, Mr. Carroll. Resigned, perhaps. I can't say that I am reconciled. All my life I shall feel that I have been cheated," she said.

He looked up sharply. Something in her tone puzzled him. "Cheated, my dear? Oh, I see. Cheated out of years and years of happiness. I see."

She bowed her head. Neither spoke for a full minute.

"It's a horrible thing to say, Sara, but this tragedy does away with another and perhaps more unpleasant alternative: the divorce I have been urging you to consider for so long."

"Yes, we are spared all that," she said. Then she met his gaze with a sudden flash of anger in her eyes. "But I would not have divorced him--never. You understood that, didn't you?"

"You couldn't have gone on for ever, my dear child, enduring the--"

She stopped him with a sharp exclamation. "Why discuss it now? Let the past take care of itself, Mr. Carroll. The past came to an end night before last, so far as I am concerned. I want advice for the future, not for the past."

He drew back, hurt by her manner. She was quick to see that she had offended him,

"I beg your pardon, my best of friends," she cried earnestly.

He smiled. "If you will take PRESENT advice, Sara, you will let go of yourself for a spell and see if tears won't relieve the tension under--"

"Tears!" she cried. "Why should I give way to tears? What have I to weep for? That man up there in the country? The cold, dead thing that spent its last living moments without a thought of love for me? Ah, no, my friend; I shed all my tears while he was alive. There are none left to be shed for him now. He exacted his full share of them. It was his pleasure to wring them from me because he knew I loved him." She leaned forward and spoke slowly, distinctly, so that he would never forget the words. "But listen to me, Mr. Carroll. You also know that I loved him. Can you believe me when I say to you that I hate that dead thing up there in Burton's Inn as no one ever hated before? Can you understand what I mean? I hate that dead body, Mr. Carroll. I loved the life that was in it. It was the life of him that I loved, the warm, appealing life of him. It has gone out. Some one less amiable than I suffered at his hands and--well, that is enough. I hate the dead body she left behind her, Mr. Carroll."

The lawyer wiped the cool moisture from his brow.

"I think I understand," he said, but he was filled with wonder. "Extraordinary! Ahem! I should say--Ahem! Dear me! Yes, yes--I've never really thought of it in that light."

"I dare say you haven't," she said, lying back in the chair as if suddenly exhausted.

"By the way, my dear, have you breakfasted?"

"No. I hadn't given it a thought. Perhaps it would be better if I had some coffee--"

"I will ring for a waiter," he said, springing to his feet.

"Not now, please. I have a young friend in the other room--a guest who arrived last night. She will attend to it when she awakes. Poor thing, it has been dreadfully trying for her."

"Good heaven, I should think so," said he, with a glance at the closed door, "Is she asleep?"

"Yes. I shall not call her until you have gone."

"May I enquire--"

"A girl I met recently--an English girl," said she succinctly, and forthwith changed the subject. "There are a few necessary details that must be attended to, Mr. Carroll. That is why I sent for you at this early hour. Mr. Leslie Wrandall will take charge--Ah!" she straightened up suddenly. "What a farce it is going to be!"

Half an hour later he departed, to rejoin her at eleven o'clock, when the reporters were to be expected. He was to do the talking for her. While he was there, Leslie Wrandall called her up on the telephone. Hearing but one side of the rather prolonged conversation, he was filled with wonder at the tactful way in which she met and parried the inevitable questions and suggestions coming from her horror-struck brother-in-law. Without the slightest trace of offensiveness in her manner, she gave Leslie to understand that the final obsequies must be conducted in the home of his parents, to whom once more her husband belonged, and that she would abide by all arrangements his family elected to make. Mr. Carroll surmised from the trend of conversation that young Wrandall was about to leave for the scene of the tragedy, and that the house was in a state of unspeakable distress. The lawyer smiled rather grimly to himself as he turned to look out of the window. He did not have to be told that Challis was the idol of the family, and that, so far as they were concerned, he could do no wrong!

After his departure, Mrs. Wrandall gently opened the bedroom door and was surprised to find the girl wide-awake, resting on one elbow, her staring eyes fastened on the newspaper that topped the pile on the chair.

Catching sight of Mrs. Wrandall she pointed to the paper with a trembling hand and cried out, in a voice full of horror:

"Did you place them there for me to read? Who was with you in the other room just now? Was it some one about the--some one looking for me? Speak! Please tell me. I heard a man's voice--"

The other crossed quickly to her side.

"Don't be alarmed. It was my lawyer. There is nothing to fear--at present. Yes, I left the papers there for you to see. You can see what a sensation it has caused. Challis Wrandall was one of the most widely known men in New York. But I suppose you know that without my telling you."

The girl sank back with a groan. "My God, what have I done? What will come of it all?"

"I wish I could answer that question," said the other, taking the girl's hand in hers. Both were trembling. After an instant's hesitation, she laid her other hand on the dark, dishevelled hair of the wild-eyed creature, who still continued to stare at the headlines. "I am quite sure they will not look for you here, or in my home."

"In your home?"

"You are to go with me. I have thought it all over. It is the only way. Come, I must ask you to pull yourself together. Get up at once, and dress. Here are the things you are to wear." She indicated the orderly pile of garments with a wave of her hand.

The Hollow of Her Hand - 10/75

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