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- The Hollow of Her Hand - 30/75 -
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.
THE GHOST AT THE FEAST
The next day he appeared bright and early with his copy of the Studio.
"There," he said, holding it before her eyes. She took it from his hands and stared long and earnestly at the reproduction.
"Do you think it like me?" she inquired innocently.
"Amazingly like you," he declared with conviction.
She turned the page. He was watching her closely. As she looked upon the sketches of the half-nude figure a warm blush covered her face and neck. She did not speak for a full minute, and he was positive that her fingers tightened their grasp on the magazine.
"The same model," he said quietly.
She nodded her head.
"Hetty Glynn, I am sure," she said, after a pause, without lifting her eyes. Her voice was low, the words not very distinct.
He drew a long breath, and she looked up quickly. What he saw in her honest blue eyes convicted her.
Sara Wrandall came into the room at that moment. Hetty hastily closed the magazine and held it behind her. Booth had intended to show the reproduction to Mrs. Wrandall, but the girl's behaviour caused him to change his mind. He felt that he possessed a secret that could not be shared with Sara Wrandall, then or afterward. Moreover, he decided that he would not refer to the Hawkright picture again unless the girl herself brought up the subject. All this flashed through his mind as he stepped forward to greet the newcomer.
When he turned again to Hetty, the magazine had disappeared. He never saw it afterward, and, what is more to the point, he never asked her to produce it.
There was a marked change in Hetty's manner after that when they were left alone together. She seemed inert, distrait and at times almost unfriendly. There were occasions, however, when she went to the other extreme in trying to be at ease with him. These transitions were singularly marked. He could not fail to notice them. As for himself, he was uncomfortable, ill-at-ease. An obvious barrier had sprung up between them.
When Sara was present, the girl seemed to be her old self, but at no other time. Frequently during the sittings of the next few days he caught her looking at him without apparently being aware of the intensity of her gaze. He had the feeling that she was trying to read his thoughts, but what impressed him more than anything else was the increasing look of wonder and appeal that lurked in her deep, questioning eyes. It seemed almost as if she were pleading for mercy with them.
He thought hard over the situation. The obvious solution came to him: she had been at one time reduced to the necessity of posing, a circumstance evidently known to but few and least of all to Sara Wrandall, from whom the girl plainly meant to keep the truth. This conviction distressed him, but not in the way that might have been expected. He had no scruples about sharing the secret or in keeping it inviolate; his real distress lay in the fear that Mrs. Wrandall might hear of all this from other and perhaps ungentle sources. As for her posing for Hawkright, it meant little or nothing to him. In his own experience, two girls of gentle birth had served as models for pictures of his own making, and he fully appreciated the exigencies that had driven them to it. One had posed in the "altogether." She was a girl of absolutely irreproachable character, who afterwards married a chap he knew very well, and who was fully aware of that short phase in her life. That feature of the situation meant nothing to him. He was in no doubt concerning Hetty. She was what she appeared to be: a gentlewoman.
He began to experience a queer sense of pity for her. Her eyes haunted him when they were separated; they dogged him when they were together. More than once he was moved to rush over and take her in his arms, and implore her to tell him all, to trust him with everything. At such times the thought of holding the slim, warm, ineffably feminine body in his arms was most distracting. He rather feared for himself. If such a thing were to happen,--and it might happen if the impulse seized him at the psychological moment of least resistance,--the result in all probability would be disastrous. She would turn on him like an injured animal and rend him! Alas, for that leveller called reason! It spoils many good intentions.
He admitted to himself that he was under the spell of her. It was not love, he was able to contend; but it was a mysterious appeal to something within him that had never revealed itself before. He couldn't quite explain what it was.
In his solitary hours at the cottage on the upper road, he was wont to take his friend Leslie Wrandall into consideration. As a friend, was it not his duty to go to him with his sordid little tale? Was it right to let Wrandall go on with his wooing when there existed that which might make all the difference in the world to him? He invariably brought these deliberations to a close by relaxing into a grim smile of amusement, as much as to say: "Serve him right, anyway. Trust him to sift her antecedents thoroughly. He's already done it, and he is quite satisfied with the result. Serve them all right, for that matter."
But then there was Hetty Glynn. What of her? Hetty Glynn, real or mythical, was a disturbing factor in his deductions. If there was a real Hetty Glynn and she was Hetty Castleton's double, what then?
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