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- The Hollow of Her Hand - 75/75 -


the first outburst from his son's lips.

"We--we prefer to be friendly, Sara, if you will allow us--"

She laughed and the old gentleman stopped in the middle of his sentence.

"We can't be friends, Mr. Wrandall," she said, suddenly serious. "The pretence would be a mockery. We are all better off if we allow our paths, our interests to diverge to-day."

"Perhaps you are right," said he, compressing his lips.

"I believe that Vivian and I could--but no! I won't go so far as to say that either. There is something genuine about her. Strange to say, I have never disliked her."

"If you had made the slightest effort to like us, no doubt we could have--"

"My dear Mr. Wrandall," she interrupted quickly, "I credit YOU with the desire to be fair and just to me. You have tried to like me. You have even deceived yourself at times. I--but why these gentle recriminations? We merely prolong an unfortunate contest between antagonistic natures, with no hope of genuine peace being established. I do not regret that I am your daughter-in-law, nor do I believe that you would regret it if I had not been the daughter of Sebastian Gooch."

"Your father was as little impressed with my son as I was with his daughter," said Redmond Wrandall drily. "I am forced to confess that he was the better judge. We had the better of the bargain."

"I believe you mean it, Mr. Wrandall," she said, a note of gratitude in her voice. "Good-bye. Mr. Carroll will see you to-morrow." She glanced quickly about the room. "I shall send for--for certain articles that are no longer required in conducting the business of Wrandall & Co."

With a quaint little smile, she indicated the two photographs of herself.

"By Jove, Sara," burst out Leslie abruptly. "I wish you'd let ME have that Gipsy Mab picture. I've always been dotty over it, don't you know. Ripping study."

Her lip curled slightly.

"As a matter of fact," he explained conclusively, "Chal often said he'd leave it to me when he died. In a joking way, of course, but I'm sure he meant it."

"You may have it, Leslie," she said slowly. It is doubtful if he correctly interpreted the movement of her head as she uttered the words.

"Thanks," said he. "I'll hang it in my den, if you don't object."

"We shall expect Mr. Carroll to-morrow, Sara," said his father, with an air of finality. "Good-bye. May I ask what plans you are making for the winter?"

"They are very indefinite."

"I say, Sara, why don't you get married?" asked Leslie, surveying the Gipsy Mab photograph with undisguised admiration as he held it at arm's length. "Ripping!" This to the picture.

She paused near the door to stare at him for a moment, unutterable scorn in her eyes.

"I've had a notion you were pretty keen about Brandy Booth," he went on amiably.

She caught her breath. There was an instant's hesitation on her part before she replied.

"You have never been very smart at making love guesses, Leslie," she said. "It's a trick you haven't acquired."

He laughed uncomfortably. "Neat stroke, that."

Following her into the corridor outside the offices, he pushed the elevator bell for her.

"I meant what I said, Sara," he remarked, somewhat doggedly. "You ought to get married. Chal didn't leave much for you to cherish. There's no reason why you should go on like this, living alone and all that sort of thing. You're young and beautiful and--"

"Oh, thank you, Leslie," she cried out sharply.

"You see, it's going to be this way: Hetty will probably marry Booth. That's on dit, I take it. You're depending on her for companionship. Well, she'll quit you cold after she's married. She will--"

She interrupted him peremptorily.

"If Challis did nothing else for me, Leslie, he at least gave me you to cherish. Once more, good-bye."

The elevator stopped for her. He strolled back to his office with a puzzled frown on his face. She certainly was inexplicable!

The angry red faded from her cheeks as she sped homeward in the automobile. Her thoughts were no longer of Leslie but of another... She sighed and closed her eyes, and her cheeks were pale.

Workmen from a picture dealer's establishment were engaged in hanging a full length portrait in the long living-room of her apartment when she reached home. She had sent to the country for Booth's picture of Hetty, and was having it hung in a conspicuous place. For a long time she stood in the middle of the room, studying the canvas. Hetty's Irish blue eyes seemed to return the scrutiny, a questioning look in their painted depths. The warm, half smiling lips appeared to be on the point of putting into words the eager question that lay in her wondering eyes.

Passing the open library door, Sara paused for an instant to peer within. Then she went on down the hall to her own sitting-room. The canary was singing glibly in his cage by the window-side.

She threw aside her furs, and, without removing her hat, passed into the bed-chamber at the left of the cosy little boudoir. This was Hetty's room. Her own was directly opposite. On the girl's dressing-table, leaning against the broad, low mirror, stood the unframed photograph of a man. With a furtive glance over her shoulder, Sara crossed to the table and took up the picture in her gloved hand. For a long time she stood there gazing into the frank, good-looking face of Brandon Booth. She breathed faster; her hand shook; her eyes were strained as if by an inward suggestion of pain.

She shook her head slowly, as if in final renunciation of a secret hope or the banishment of an unwelcome desire, and resolutely replaced the photograph. Her lips were almost white as she turned away and re-entered the room beyond.

"He belongs to her," she said, unconsciously speaking aloud; "and he is like all men. She must not be unhappy."

Presently she entered the library. She had exchanged her tailor-suit for a dainty house-gown. Hetty was still seated in the big lounging chair, before the snapping fire, apparently not having moved since she looked in on passing a quarter of an hour before. One of the girl's legs was curled up under her, the other swung loose; an elbow rested on the arm of the chair, and her cheek was in her hand.

Coming softly up from behind, Sara leaned over the back of the chair and put her hands under her friend's chin, tenderly, lovingly. Hetty started and shivered.

"Oh, Sara, how cold your hands are!"

She grasped them in her own and fondly stroked them, as if to restore warmth to the long, slim fingers which gave the lie to Mrs. Coburn's declarations.

"I've been thinking all morning of what you and Brandon proposed to me last night, dear," said Sara, looking straight over the girl's head, the dark, languorous, mysterious glow filling her eyes. "It is good of you both to want me, but--"

"Now don't say 'but,' Sara," cried Hetty. "We mean it, and you must let us have our way."

"It would be splendid to be near you all the time, dear; it would be wonderful to live with you as you so generously propose, but I cannot do it. I must decline."

"And may I ask why you decline to live with me?" demanded Hetty resentfully.

"Because I love you so dearly," said Sara.

THE END


The Hollow of Her Hand - 75/75

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