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- The Hollow of Her Hand - 20/75 -
"Your own intelligence should supply the answer to all the questions you are asking of yourself. It is too late for me to turn against you." She abruptly removed her hand from Hetty's shoulder and walked to the edge of the verandah. For the first time, the English girl was conscious of pain. She drew her arm up and cringed. She pulled the light scarf about her bare shoulders.
The butler appeared in the doorway.
"The telephone, if you please, Miss Castleton. Mr. Leslie Wrandall is calling."
The girl stared. "For me, Watson?"
"Yes, Miss. I forgot to say that he called up this afternoon while you were out," very apologetically, with a furtive glance at Mrs. Wrandall, who had turned.
"Loss of memory, Watson, is a fatal affliction," she said, with a smile.
"Yes, Mrs. Wrandall. I don't see 'ow it 'appened."
"It is not likely to happen again."
Hetty had risen, visibly agitated.
"What shall I say to him, Sara?" she cried.
"Apparently it is he who has something to say to you," said the other, still smiling. "Wait and see what it is. Please don't neglect to say that we'd like to have him over Sunday."
"A box of flowers has just come up from the station for you, Miss," said Watson.
Hetty was very white as she passed into the house. Mrs. Wrandall resumed her contemplation of the fog-screened Sound.
"Shall I fetch you a wrap, ma'am?" asked Watson, hesitating.
"I am coming in, Watson. Open the box of flowers for Miss Castleton. Is there a fire in the library?"
"Yes, Mrs. Wrandall."
"Mr. Leslie will be out on Saturday. Tell Mrs. Conkling."
"The evening train, ma'am?"
"No. The eleven-thirty. He will be here for luncheon."
When Hetty hurried into the library a few minutes later, her manner was that of one considerably disturbed by something that has transpired almost on the moment. Her cheeks were flushed and her eyes were reflectors of a no uncertain distress of mind. Mrs. Wrandall was standing before the fireplace, an exquisite figure in the slinky black evening gown which she affected in these days. Her perfectly modelled neck and shoulders gleamed like pink marble in the reflected glow of the burning logs. She wore no jewellery, but there was a single white rose in her dark hair, where it had been placed by the whimsical Hetty an hour earlier as they left the dinner table.
"He is coming out on the eleven-thirty, Sara," said the girl nervously, "unless you will send the motor in for him. The body of his car is being changed and it's in the shop. He must have been jesting when he said he would pay for the petrol--I should have said gasoline."
Sara laughed. "You will know him better, my dear," she said. "Leslie is very light-hearted."
"He suggested bringing a friend," went on Hetty hurriedly. "A Mr. Booth, the portrait painter."
"I met him in Italy. He is charming. You will like HIM, too, Hetty." The emphasis did not escape notice.
"It seems that he is spending a fortnight in the village, this Mr. Booth, painting spring lambs for rest and recreation, Mr. Leslie says."
"Then he is at our very gates," said Sara, looking up suddenly.
"I wonder if he can be the man I saw yesterday at the bridge," mused Hetty. "Is he tall?"
"I really can't say. He's rather vague. It was six or seven years ago."
"It was left that Mr. Wrandall is to come out on the eleven-thirty," explained Hetty. "I thought you wouldn't like sending either of the motors in."
"And Mr. Booth?"
"We are to send for him after Mr. Wrandall arrives. He is stopping at the inn, wherever that may be."
"Poor fellow!" sighed Sara, with a grimace. "I am sure he will like us immensely if he has been stopping at the inn."
Hetty stood staring down at the blazing logs for a full minute before giving expression to the thought that troubled her.
"Sara," she said, meeting her friend's eyes with a steady light in her own, "why did Mr. Wrandall ask for me instead of you? It is you he is coming to visit, not me. It is your house. Why should--"
"My dear," said Sara glibly, "I am merely his sister-in-law. It wouldn't be neecssary to ask me if he should come. He knows he is welcome."
"Then why should he feel called upon to--"
"Some men like to telephone, I suppose," said the other coolly.
"I wonder if you will ever understand how I feel about--about certain things, Sara."
"What, for instance?"
"Well, his very evident interest in me," cried the girl hotly. "He sends me flowers,--this is the second box this week,--and he is so kind, so VERY friendly, Sara, that I can't bear it--I really can't."
Mrs. Wrandall stared at her. "You can't very well send him about his business," she said, "unless he becomes more than friendly. Now, can you?"
"But it seems so--so horrible, so beastly," groaned the girl.
Sara faced her squarely. "See here, Hetty," she said levelly, "we have made our bed, you and I. We must lie in it--together. If Leslie Wrandall chooses to fall in love with you, that is his affair, not ours. We must face every condition. In plain words, we must play the game."
"What could be more appalling than to have him fall in love with me?"
"The other way 'round would be more dramatic, I should say."
"Good God, Sara!" cried the girl in horror. "How can you even speak of such a thing?"
"After all, why shouldn't--" began Sara, but stopped in the middle of her suggestion, with the result that it had its full effect without being uttered in so many cold-blooded words. The girl shuddered.
"I wish, Sara, you would let me unburden myself completely to you," she pleaded, seizing her friend's hands. "You have forbidden me--"
Sara jerked her hands away. Her eyes flashed. "I do not want to hear it," she cried fiercely. "Never, never! Do you understand? It is your secret. I will not share it with you. I should hate you if I knew everything. As it is, I love you because you are a woman who suffered at the hand of one who made me suffer. There is nothing more to say. Don't bring up the subject again. I want to be your friend for ever, not your confidante. There is a distinction. You may be able to see how very marked it is in our case, Hetty. What one does not know, seldom hurts."
"But I want to justify myself--"
"It isn't necessary," cut in the other so peremptorily that the girl's eyes spread into a look of anger. Whereupon Sara Wrandall threw her arm about her and drew her down beside her on the chaise-longue. "I didn't mean to be harsh," she cried. "We must not speak of the past, that's all. The future is not likely to hurt us, dear. Let us avoid the past."
"The future!" sighed the girl, staring blankly before her.
"To appreciate what it is to be," said the other, "you have but to think of what it might have been."
"I know," said Hetty, in a low voice. "And yet I sometimes wonder if--"
Sara interrupted. "You are paying me, dear, instead of the law," she said gently. "I am not a harsh creditor, am I?"
"My life belongs to you. I give it cheerfully, even gladly."
"So you have said before. Well, if it belongs to me, you might at least permit me to develop it as I would any other possession. I take it as an investment. It will probably fluctuate."
"Now you are jesting!"
"Perhaps," said Sara laconically.
The next morning Hetty set forth for her accustomed tramp over the roads that wound through the estate. Sara, the American, dawdled at home, resenting the chill spring drizzle that did not in the least discourage the Englishwoman. The mistress of the house and
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