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- The Hollow of Her Hand - 4/75 -
She turned on them suddenly, spreading her arms in a wide gesture of self-absolution. Her sombre eyes swept the group.
"I can do no harm. This man is mine. I want to look at him for the last time--alone. Will you go?"
"Do you mean, madam, that you intend to--" began the coroner in alarm.
She clasped her hands. "I mean that I shall take my last look at him now--and here. Then you may do what you like with him. He is your dead--not mine. I do not want him. Can you understand? _I_ DO NOT WANT THIS DEAD THING. But there is something I would say to him, something that I must say. Something that no one must hear but the good God who knows how much he has hurt me. I want to say it close to those grey, horrid ears. Who knows? He may hear me!"
Wondering, the others backed from the room. She watched them until they closed the door.
Listening, they heard her lower the window. It squealed like a thing in fear.
Ten minutes passed. The group in the hall conversed in whispers.
"Why did she put the window down?" asked the wife of the inn-keeper, crossing herself.
Drake shook his head. "I wonder what she is saying to him," he muttered.
"A wonderful nerve," said Dr. Sheef. "Positively wonderful. I've never seen anything like it."
"Her own husband, too," said Mrs. Burton. "Why, I--I should have said she'd go into hysterics. Such a handsome man he was."
"I guess, from what I've heard of this fellow, Wrandall, he's not been an angel," volunteered the sheriff.
Drake shook his head once more.
"He ain't one now, I'll bet on that," said the man who stood guard. "He's in hell if ever a man--"
"Sh!" whispered the woman in horror. "God forgive you for uttering words like that!"
"Every one in the city knows what sort of a man he's been," said Drake.
He comes of a fine family," said the coroner. "One of the best in New York. I guess he's never been much of a credit to it, however."
"They say he ran after chorus girls," said Mrs. Burton. The men grinned.
"I've an idea she's had the devil's own time with him," mused the sheriff, with a jerk of his head in the direction of the door.
"Poor thing," said the inn-keeper's wife.
"Well," said Drake, taking a deep breath, "she won't have to worry any more about his not coming home nights. I say, this business will create a fearful sensation, sheriff. The Four Hundred will have a conniption fit."
"We've got to land that girl, whoever she is," grated the official. "Now that we know who he is, it shouldn't be hard to pick out the women he's been trailing with lately. Then we can sift 'em down until the right one is left. It ought to be easy."
"I'm not so sure of it," said the coroner, shaking his head. "I have a feeling that she isn't one of the ordinary type. It wouldn't surprise me if she belongs to--well, you might say, the upper ten. Somebody's wife, don't you see. That will make it rather difficult, especially as her tracks have been pretty well covered."
"It beats me, how she got away without leaving a single sign behind her," acknowledged the sheriff. "She's a wonder, that's all I've got to say."
At that instant the door opened and Mrs. Wrandall appeared. She stopped short, confronting the huddled group, dry-eyed but as pallid as a ghost. Her eyes were wide, apparently unseeing; her colourless lips were parted in the drawn rigidity that suggested but one thing to the professional man who looks: the RISIS SARDONICUS of the strychnae victim. With a low cry, the doctor started forward, fully convinced that she had swallowed the deadly drug.
"For God's sake, madam," he began. But as he spoke, her expression changed; she seemed to be aware of their presence for the first time. Her eyes narrowed in a curious manner, and the rigid lips seemed to surge with blood, presenting the effect of a queer, swift-fading smile that lingered long after her face was set and serious.
"I neglected to raise the window, Dr. Sheef," she said in a low voice. "It was very cold in there." She shivered slightly. "Will you be so kind as to tell me what I am to do now? What formalities remain for me--"
The coroner was at her side. "Time enough for that, Mrs. Wrandall. The first thing you are to do is to take something warm to drink, and pull yourself together a bit--"
She drew herself up coldly. "I am quite myself, Dr. Sheef. Pray do not alarm yourself on my account. I shall be obliged to you, however, if you will tell me what I am to do as speedily as possible, and let me do it so that I may leave this--this unhappy place without delay. No! I mean it, sir. I am going to-night--unless, of course," she said, with a quick look at the sheriff, "the law stands in the way."
"You are at liberty to come and go as you please, Mrs. Wrandall," said the sheriff, "but it is most fool-hardy to think of--"
"Thank you, Mr. Sheriff," she said, "for letting me go. I thought perhaps there might be legal restraint." She sent a swift glance over her shoulder, and then spoke in a high, shrill voice, indicative of extreme dread and uneasiness:
"Close the door to that room!"
The door was standing wide open, just as she had left it. Startled, the coroner's deputy sprang forward to close it. Involuntarily, all of her listeners looked in the direction of the room, as if expecting to see the form of the murdered man advancing upon them. The feeling, swiftly gone, was most uncanny.
"Close it from the INSIDE," commanded the coroner, with unmistakable emphasis. The man hesitated, and then did as he was ordered, but not without a curious look at the wife of the dead man, whose back was toward him.
"He will not find anything disturbed, doctor," said she, divining his thought. "I had the feeling that something was creeping toward us out of that room."
"You have every reason to be nervous, madam. The situation has been most extraordinary,--most trying," said the coroner. "I beg of you to come downstairs, where we may attend to a few necessary details without delay. It has been a most fatiguing matter for all of us. Hours without sleep, and such wretched weather."
They descended to the warm little reception-room. She sent at once for the inn-keeper, who came in and glowered at her as if she were wholly responsible for the blight that had been put upon his place.
"Will you be good enough to send some one to the station with me in your depot wagon?" she demanded without hesitation.
He stared. "We don't run a 'bus in the winter time," he said gruffly.
She opened the little chatelaine bag that hung from her wrist and abstracted a card which she submitted to the coroner.
"You will find, Dr. Sheef, that the car my husband came up here in belongs to me. This is the card issued by the State. It is in my name. The factory number is there. You may compare it with the one on the car. My husband took the car without obtaining my consent."
"Joy riding," said Burton, with an ugly laugh. Then he quailed before the look she gave him.
"If no other means is offered, Dr. Sheef, I shall ask you to let me take the car. I am perfectly capable of driving. I have driven it in the country for two seasons. All I ask is that some one be directed to go with me to the station. No! Better than that, if there is some one here who is willing to accompany me to the city, he shall be handsomely paid for going. It is but little more than thirty miles. I refuse to spend the night in this house. That is final."
They drew apart to confer, leaving her sitting before the fire, a stark figure that seemed to detach itself entirely from its surroundings and their companionship. At last, the coroner came to her side and touched her arm.
"I don't know what the district attorney and the police will say to it, Mrs. Wrandall, but I shall take it upon myself to deliver the car to you. The sheriff has gone out to compare the numbers. If he finds that the car is yours, he will see to it, with Mr. Drake, that it is made ready for you. I take it that we will have no difficulty in--" He hesitated, at a loss for words.
"In finding it again in case you need it for evidence?" she supplied. He nodded. "I shall make it a point, Dr. Sheef, to present the car to the State after it has served my purpose to-night. I shall not ride in it again."
"The sheriff has a man who will ride with you to the station or the city, whichever you may elect. Now, may I trouble you to make answer to certain questions I shall write out for you at once? The man is Challis Wrandall, your husband? You are positive?"
"I am positive. He is--or was--Challis Wrandall."
Half an hour later, she was ready for the trip to New York City. The clock in the office marked the hour as one. A toddied individual
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