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- The Hollow of Her Hand - 60/75 -
heard of it myself until just now. I think I shall go down to the Homestead with the Carrolls."
"Virginia," she added explicitly.
"I say, Sara, what does all this mean? You--"
"And if you should follow me there, Vivian's estimate of us will not be so far out of the way as we'd like to make it."
True to her word, she was gone when he drove over later on in the day. Somehow, he experienced a feeling of relief. Not that he was oppressed by the rather vivacious opinions of Vivian and her ilk, but because something told him that Sara was wavering in her determination to withhold the secret from him and fled for perfectly obvious reasons.
He had two commissions among the rich summer colonists. One, a full length portrait of young Beardsley in shooting togs, was nearly finished. The other was to be a half-length of Mrs. Ravenscroft, who wanted one just like Hetty Castleton's, except for the eyes, which she admitted would have to be different. Nothing was said of the seventeen years' difference in their ages. Vivian had put off posing until Lent.
The Wrandalls departed for Scotland, and other friends of his began to desert the country for the city. The fortnight passed and another week besides. Mrs. Ravenscroft decided to go to Europe when the picture was half-finished.
"You can finish it when I come back in December, Mr. Booth," she said. "I'll have several new gowns to choose from, too."
"I shall be busy all winter, Mrs. Ravenscroft," he said coldly.
"How annoying," she said calmly, and that was the end of it all. She had made the unpleasant discovery that it WASN'T going to be in the least like Hetty Castleton's, so why bother about it?
Booth waited until Sara came out to superintend the closing of her house for the winter. He called at Southlook on the day of her arrival. He was struck at once by the curious change in her appearance and manner. There was something bleak and desolate in the vividly brilliant face: the tired, wistful, harassed look of one who has begun to quail and yet fights on.
"Will you go out with me to-morrow, Brandon, for an all-day trip in the car?" she asked, as they stood together before the open fireplace on this late November afternoon. Her eyes were moody, her voice rather lifeless.
"Certainly," he said, watching her closely. Was the break about to come?
"I will stop for you at nine." After a short pause, she looked up and said: "I suppose you would like to know where I am taking you."
"It doesn't matter, Sara."
"I want you to go with me to Burton's Inn."
"That is the place where my husband was killed," she said, quite steadily.
He started. "Oh! But--do you think it best, Sara, to open old wounds by--"
"I have thought it all out, Brandon. I want to go there--just once. I want to go into that room again."
ONCE MORE AT BURTON'S INN
Again Sara Wrandall found herself in that never-to-be-forgotten room at Burton's Inn. On that grim night in March, she had entered without fear or trembling because she knew what was there. Now she quaked with a mighty chill of terror, for she knew not what was there in the quiet, now sequestered room. Burton had told them on their arrival after a long drive across country that patrons of the inn invariably asked which room it was that had been the scene of the tragedy, and, on finding out, refused point-blank to occupy it. In consequence, he had been obliged to transform it into a sort of store and baggage room.
Sara stood in the middle of the murky room, for the shutters had long been closed to the light of day, and looked about her in awe at the heterogeneous mass of boxes, trunks, bundles and rubbish, scattered over the floor without care or system. She had closed the door behind her and was quite alone. Light sneaked in through the cracks in the shutters, but so meagrely that it only served to increase the gloom. A dismantled bedstead stood heaped up in the corner. She did not have to be told what bed it was. The mattress was there too, rolled up and tied with a thick garden rope. She knew there were dull, ugly blood-stains upon it. Why the thrifty Burton had persevered in keeping this useless article of furniture, she could only surmise. Perhaps it was held as an inducement to the morbidly curious who always seek out the gruesome and gloat even as they shudder.
For a long time she stood immovable just inside the door, recalling the horrid picture of another day. She tried to imagine the scene that had been enacted there with gentle, lovable Hetty Glynn and her whilom husband as the principal characters. The girl had told the whole story of that ugly night. Sara tried to see it as it actually had transpired. For months this present enterprise had been in her mind: the desire to see the place again, to go there with old impressions which she could leave behind when ready to emerge in a new frame of mind. It was here that she meant to shake off the shackles of a horrid dream, to purge herself of the last vestige of bitterness, to cleanse her mind of certain thoughts and memories.
Downstairs Booth waited for her. He heard the story of the tragedy from the surly inn-keeper, who crossly maintained that his business had been ruined. Booth was vaguely impressed, he knew not why, by Burton's description of the missing woman. "I'd say she was about the size of Mrs. Wrandall herself, and much the same figger," he said, as he had said a thousand times before. "My wife noticed it the minute she saw Mrs. Wrandall. Same height and everything."
A bell rang sharply and Burton glanced over his shoulder at the indicator on the wall behind the desk. He gave a great start and his jaw sagged.
"Great Scott!" he gasped. A curious greyness stole over his face. "It's--it's the bell in that very room. My soul, what can--"
"Mrs. Wrandall is up there, isn't she?" demanded Booth.
"It ain't rung since the night he pushed the button for--Oh, gee! You're right. She IS up there. My, what a scare it gave me." He wiped his brow. Turning to a boy, he commanded him to answer the bell. The boy went slowly, and as he went he removed his hands from his pockets. He came back an instant later, more swiftly than he went, with the word that "the lady up there" wanted Mr. Booth to come upstairs.
She was waiting for him in the open doorway. A shaft of bright sunlight from a window at the end of the hall fell upon her. Her face was colourless, haggard. He paused for an instant to contrast her as she stood there in the pitiless light with the vivid creature he had put upon canvas so recently.
She beckoned to him and turned back into the room. He followed.
"This is the room, Brandon, where my husband met the death he deserved," she said quietly.
"Deserved? Good heavens, Sara, are you--"
"I want you to look about you and try to picture how this place looked on the night of the murder. You have a vivid imagination. None of this rubbish was here. Just a bed, a table and two chairs. There was a carpet on the floor. There were two people here, a man and a woman. The woman had trusted the man. She trusted him until the hour in which he died. Then she found him out. She had come to this place, believing it was to be her wedding night. She found no minister here. The man laughed at her and scoffed. Then she knew. In horror, shame, desperation she tried to break away from him. He was strong. She was a good woman; a virtuous, honourable woman. She saved herself."
He was staring at her with dilated eyes. Slowly the truth was being borne in upon him.
"The woman was--Hetty?" came hoarsely from his stiffening lips. "My God, Sara!"
She came close to him and spoke in a half-whisper. "Now you know the secret. Is it safe with you?"
He opened his lips to speak, but no words came forth. Paralysis seemed to have gripped not only his throat but his senses. He reeled. She grasped his arm in a tense, fierce way, and whispered:
"Be careful! No one must hear what we are saying." She shot a glance down the deserted hall. "No one is near. I made sure of that. Don't speak! Think first--think well, Brandon Booth. It is what you have been seeking for months:--the truth. You share the secret with us now. Again I ask, is it safe with you?"
"My God!" he muttered again, and passed his hand over his eyes. His brow was wet. He looked at his fingers dumbly as if expecting to find them covered with blood.
"Is it safe with you?" for the third time.
"Safe? Safe?" he whispered, following her example without knowing
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