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- The Hollow of Her Hand - 50/75 -


Hetty offered no comment, but after a moment gravely and rather wistfully called attention to her present occupation by a significant flaunt of her hand and a saddened smile.

"I see," said Sara, without emotion. "If you choose to go, Hetty, I shall not oppose you."

"My position here is a false one, Sara. I prefer to go."

"This morning I should have held a sword over your head."

"It is very difficult for me to realise all that has happened."

"You are free to depart. You are free in every sense of the word. Your future rests with yourself, my dear."

"It hurts me more than I can tell to feel that you have been hating me all these months."

"It hurts me--now."

Hetty walked to the window and looked out.

"What are your plans?" Sara inquired, after an interval.

"I shall seek employment--and wait for you to act."

"I? You mean?"

"I shall not run away, Sara. Nor do I intend to reveal myself to the authorities. I am not morally guilty of crime. A year ago I feared the consequences of my deed, but I have learned much since then. I was a stranger in a new world. In England we have been led to believe that you lynch women here as readily as you lynch men. I now know better than that. From you alone I learned my greatest lesson. You revealed to me the true meaning of human kindness. You shielded me who should not. Even now I believe that your first impulse was a tender one. I shall not forget it, Sara. You will live to regret the baser thought that came later on. I have loved you--yes, almost as a good dog loves his master. It is not for me to tell the story of that night and all these months to the world. I would not be betraying myself, but you. You would be called upon to explain, not I. And you would be the one to suffer. When you met me on the road that night I was on my way back to the inn to give myself into custody. You have made it impossible for me to do so now. My lips are sealed. It rests with you, Sara."

Sara joined her in the broad window. There was a strangely exalted look in her face. A gilded bird-cage hung suspended in the casement. Without a word, she threw open the window screen. The gay little canary in the gilded cage cocked his head and watched her with alert eyes. Then she reached up and gently removed the cage from its fastenings. Putting it down upon the window sill, she opened the tiny door. The bird hopped about his prison in a state of great excitement.

Hetty looked on, fascinated.

At last a yellow streak shot out through the open door and an instant later resolved itself into the bobbing, fluttering dicky-bird that had lived in a cage all its life without an hour of freedom. For a few seconds it circled over the tree-tops and then alighted on one of the branches. One might well have imagined that he could hear its tiny heart beating with terror. Its wings were half-raised and fluttering, its head jerking from side to side in wild perturbation. Taking courage, Master Dicky hopped timorously to a nearby twig, and then ventured a flight to a tree-top nearer the window casement. Perched in its topmost branches he cheeped shrilly, as if there was fear in his little breast.

In silence the two women in the window watched the agitated movements of the bird. The same thought was in the mind of each, the same question, the same intense wish.

A brown thrush sped through the air, close by the timid canary. Like a flash it dropped to the twigs lower down, its wings palpitating in violent alarm.

"Dicky!" called Sara Wrandall, and then cheeped between her teeth.

A moment later Dicky was fluttering about the eaves; his circles grew smaller, his winging less rhythmic, till at last with a nervous little flutter he perched on the top of the window shutter, so near that they might have reached to him with their hands. He sat there with his head cocked to one side.

"Dicky!" called Sara again. This time she held out her finger. For some time he regarded it with indifference, not to say disfavour. Then he took one more flight, but much shorter than the first, bringing up again at the shutter-top. A second later he hopped down and his little talons gripped Sara's finger with an earnestness that left no room for doubt.

She lowered her hand until it was even with the open door of the gilded cage. He shot inside with a whir that suggested a scramble. With his wings folded, he sat on his little trapeze and cheeped. She closed and fastened the door, and then turned to Hetty.

"My symbol," she said softly.

There were tears in Hetty's eyes.

Leslie did not turn up at his father's place in the High Street that night until Booth was safely out of the way. He spent a dismal evening at the boat club.

His father and mother were in the library when he came in at half-past ten. From a dark corner of the garden he had witnessed Booth's early departure. Vivian had gone down to the gate in the low-lying hedge with her visitor. She came in a moment after Leslie's entrance.

"Hello, Les," she said, bending an inquiring eye upon him. "Isn't this early for you?"

Her brother was standing near the fireplace.

"There's a heavy dew falling, Mater," he said gruffly. "Shan't I touch a match to the kindling?"

His mother came over to him quickly, and laid her hand on his arm.

"Your coat is damp," she said anxiously. "Yes, light the fire."

"It's very warm in this room," said Mr. Wrandall, looking up from his book. They were always doing something for Leslie's comfort.

No one seemed to notice him. Leslie knelt and struck a match.

"Well?" said Vivian.

"Well what?" he demanded without looking up.

His sister took a moment for thought. "Is Hetty coming to stay with us in July?"

He stood erect, first rubbing his knee to dislodge the dust,--then his palms.

"No, she isn't coming," he said. He drew a very long breath--the first in several hours--and then expelled it vocally. "She has refused to marry me."

Mr. Wrandall turned a leaf in his book; it sounded like the crack of doom, so still had the room become.

Vivian had the forethought to push a chair toward her mother. It was a most timely act on her part, for Mrs. Wrandall sat down very abruptly and very limply.

"She--WHAT?" gasped Leslie's mother.

"Turned me down--cold," said Leslie briefly.

Mr. Wrandall laid his book on the table without thinking to put the bookmark in place. Then he arose and removed his glasses, fumbling for the case.

"She--she--WHAT?" he demanded.

"Sacked me," replied his son.

"Please do not jest with me, Leslie," said his mother, trying to smile.

"He isn't joking, mother," said Vivian, with a shrug of her fine shoulders.

"He--he MUST be," cried Mrs. Wrandall impatiently. "What did she REALLY say, Leslie?"

"The only thing I remember was 'good-bye,'" said he, and then blew his nose violently.

"Poor old Les!" said Vivian, with real feeling.

"It was Sara Gooch's doing!" exclaimed Mrs. Wrandall, getting her breath at last.

"Nonsense," said Mr. Wrandall, picking up his book once more and turning to the place where the bookmark lay, after which he proceeded to re-read four or five pages before discovering his error.

No one spoke for a matter of five minutes or more. Then Mrs. Wrandall got up, went over to the library table and closed with a snap the bulky blue book with the limp leather cover, saying as she held it up to let him see that it was the privately printed history of the Murgatroyd family:

"It came by post this evening from London. She is merely a fourth cousin, my son."

He looked up with a gleam of interest in his eye.

CHAPTER XVII


The Hollow of Her Hand - 50/75

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