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- The Hollow of Her Hand - 2/75 -

you must see that I am suffering. I must see, I must know. The suspense--" She did not complete the sentence, but hurried past him to the door, throwing it open and bending her body to the gust that burst in upon them.

He sprang after her, grasping her arm to lead her across the icy platform to the automobile that stood in the lee of the building.

Disdaining his command to enter the tonneau, she stood beside the car and waited until he cranked it and took his place at the wheel. Then she took her seat beside him and permitted him to tuck the great buffalo robe about her. No word was spoken. The man was a stranger to her. She forgot his presence in the car.

Into the thick of the storm the motor chugged. Grim and silent, the man at the wheel, ungoggled and tense, sent the whirring thing swiftly over the trackless village street and out upon the open country road. The woman closed her eyes and waited.

You would know the month was March. He said: "It comes in like a lion," but apparently the storm swallowed the words for she made no response to them.

They crossed the valley and crept up the tree-covered hill, where the force of the gale was broken. If she heard him say: "Fierce, wasn't it?" she gave no sign, but sat hunched forward, peering ahead through the snow at the blurred lights that seemed so far away and yet were close at hand.

"Is that the inn?" she asked as he swerved from the road a few moments later.

"Yes, Mrs. Wrandall. We're here."

"Is--is he in there?"

"Where you see that lighted window upstairs." He tooted the horn vigorously as he drew up to the long, low porch. Two men dashed out from the doorway and clumsily assisted her from the car.

"Go right in, Mrs. Wrandall," said Drake. "I join you in a jiffy."

She walked between the two men into the feebly lighted office of the inn. The keeper of the place, a dreary looking person with dread in his eyes, hurried forward. She stopped stock-still. Some one was brushing the stubborn, thickly caked snow from her long chinchilla coat.

"You must let me get you something hot to drink, madam," the landlord was saying dolorously.

She struggled with her veil, finally tearing it away from her face. Then she took in the rather bare, cheerless room with a slow, puzzled sweep of her eyes.

"No, thank you," she replied.

"It won't be any trouble, madam," urged the other. "It's right here. The sheriff says it's all right to serve it, although it is after hours. I run a respectable, law-abiding house. I wouldn't think of offering it to anyone if it was in violation--"

"Never mind, Burton," interposed a big man, approaching. "Let the lady choose for herself. If she wants it, she'll say so. I am the sheriff, madam. This gentleman is the coroner, Dr. Sheef. We waited up for you after Mr. Drake said you'd got the fast train to stop for you. To-morrow morning would have done quite as well. I'm sorry you came to-night in all this blizzard."

He was staring as if fascinated at the white, colourless face of the woman who with nervous fingers unfastened the heavy coat that enveloped her slender figure. She was young and strikingly beautiful, despite the intense pallor that overspread her face. Her dark, questioning, dreading eyes looked up into his with an expression he was never to forget. It combined dread, horror, doubt and a smouldering anger that seemed to overcast all other emotions that lay revealed to him.

"This is a--what is commonly called a 'road-house'?" she asked dully, her eyes narrowing suddenly as if in pain.

The inn-keeper made haste to resent the implied criticism.

"My place is a respectable, law-abiding--"

The sheriff waved him aside.

"It is an inn during the winter, Mrs. Wrandall, and a road-house in the summer, if that makes it plain to you. I will say, however, that Burton has always kept well within the law. This is the first--er--real bit of trouble he's had, and I won't say it's his fault. Keep quiet, Burton. No one is accusing you of anything wrong. Don't whine about it."

"But my place is ruined," groaned the doleful one. "It's got a black eye now. Not that I blame you, madam, but you can see how--"

He quailed before the steady look in her eyes, and turned away mumbling.

There were half a dozen men in the room, besides the speakers, sober-faced fellows who conversed in undertones and studiously kept their backs to the woman who had just come among them. They were grouped about the roaring fireplace in the lower end of the room. Steam arose from their heavy winters garments. Their caps were still drawn far down over their ears. These were men who had been out in the night.

"There is a fire in the reception-room, madam," said the coroner; "and the proprietor's wife to look out for you if you should require anything. Will you go in there and compose yourself before going upstairs? Or, if you would prefer waiting until morning, I shall not insist on the--er--ordeal to-night."

"I prefer going up there to-night," said she steadily.

The men looked at each other, and the sheriff spoke. "Mr. Drake is quite confident the--the man is your husband. It's an ugly affair, Mrs. Wrandall. We had no means of identifying him until Drake came in this evening, out of curiosity you might say. For your sake, I hope he is mistaken."

"Would you mind telling me something about it before I go upstairs? I am quite calm. I am prepared for anything. You need not hesitate."

"As you wish, madam. You will go into the reception-room, if you please. Burton, is Mrs. Wrandall's room quite ready for her?"

"I shall not stay here to-night," interposed Mrs. Wrandall. "You need not keep the room for me."

"But, my dear Mrs. Wrandall--"

"I shall wait in the railway station until morning if necessary. But not here."

The coroner led the way to the cosy little room off the office. She followed with the sheriff. The men looked worn and haggard in the bright light that met them, as if they had not known sleep or rest for many hours.

"The assistant district attorney was here until eleven, but went home to get a little rest. It's been a hard case for all of us--a nasty one," explained the sheriff, as he placed a chair in front of the fire for her. She sank into it limply.

"Go on, please," she murmured, and shook her head at the nervous little woman who bustled up and inquired if she could do anything to make her more comfortable.

The sheriff cleared his throat. "Well, it happened last night. All day long we've been trying to find out who he is, and ever since eight o'clock this morning we've been searching for the woman who came here with him. She has disappeared as completely as if swallowed by the earth. Not a sign of a clew---not a shred. There's nothing to show when she left the inn or by what means. All we know is that the door to that room up there was standing half open when Burton passed by it at seven o'clock this morning---that is to say, yesterday morning, for this is now Wednesday. It is quite clear, from this, that she neglected to close the door tightly when she came out, probably through haste or fear, and the draft in the hall blew it wider open during the night. Burton says the inn was closed for the night at half-past ten. He went to bed. She must have slipped out after every one was sound asleep. There were no other guests on that floor. Burton and his wife sleep on this floor, and the servants are at the top of the house and in a wing. No one heard a sound. We have not the remotest idea when the thing happened, or when she left the place. Dr. Sheef says the man had been dead for six or eight hours when he first saw him, and that was very soon after Burton's discovery. Burton, on finding the door open, naturally suspected that his guests had skipped out during the night to avoid paying the bill, and lost no time in entering the room.

"He found the man lying on the bed, sprawled out, face upward and as dead as a mack--I should say, quite dead. He was partly dressed. His coat and vest hung over the back of a chair. A small service carving knife, belonging to the inn, had been driven squarely into his heart and was found sticking there. Burton says that the man, on their arrival at the inn, about nine o'clock at night, ordered supper sent up to the room. The tray of dishes, with most of the food untouched, and an empty champagne bottle, was found on the service table near the hed. One of the chairs was overturned. The servant who took the meal to the room says that the woman was sitting at the window with her wraps on, motor veil and all, just as she was when she came into the place. The man gave all the directions, the woman apparently paying no attention to what was going on. The waitress left the room without seeing her face. She had instructions not to come for the tray until morning.

"That was the last time the man was seen alive. No one has seen the woman since the door closed after the servant, who distinctly remembers hearing the key turn in the lock as she went down the hall. It seems pretty clear that the man ate and drank but not the woman. Her food remained untouched on the plate and her glass was full. 'Gad, it must have been a merry feast! I beg your pardon, Mrs. Wrandall!"

"Go on, please," said she levelly.

"That's all there is to say so far as the actual crime is concerned.

The Hollow of Her Hand - 2/75

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