The Hollow of Her Hand, page 1
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"The black pile is mine, the gay pile is yours,"she went on, turning toward the sleeping girl]
THE HOLLOW OF HER HAND
By GEORGE BARR McCUTCHEON
I MARCH COMES IN LIKE THE LION
II THE PASSING OF A NIGHT
III HETTY CASTLETON
IV WHILE THE MOB WAITED
V DISCUSSING A SISTER-IN-LAW
VII A FAITHFUL CRAYON-POINT
VIII IN WHICH HETTY IS WEIGHED
IX HAWKRIGHT'S MODEL
X THE GHOST AT THE FEAST
XI MAN PROPOSES
XII THE APPROACH OF A MAN NAMED SMITH
XIII MR. WRANDALL PERJURES HIMSELF
XIV IN THE SHADOW OF THE MILL
XV SARA WRANDALL FINDS THE TRUTH
XVI THE SECOND ENCOUNTER
XVII CROSSING THE CHANNEL
XVIII RATTLING OLD BONES
XIX VIVIAN AIRS HER OPINIONS
XX ONCE MORE AT BURTON'S INN
XXI DISTURBING NEWS
XXII THE HOLLOW OF HER HAND
XXIII SARA WRANDALL'S DECISION
XXIV THE JURY OF FOUR
MARCH COMES IN LIKE THE LION
The train, which had roared through a withering gale of sleetall the way up from New York, came to a standstill, with many anear-splitting sigh, alongside the little station, and a reluctantporter opened his vestibule door to descend to the snow-sweptplatform: a solitary passenger had reached the journey's end. Theswirl of snow and sleet screaming out of the blackness at the endof the station-building enveloped the porter in an instant, andcut his ears and neck with stinging force as he turned his backagainst the gale. A pair of lonely, half-obscured platform lightsgleamed fatuously at the top of their icy posts at each end of thestation; two or three frost-encrusted windows glowed dully in theside of the building, while one shone brightly where the operatorsat waiting for the passing of No. 33.
The train itself was dark. Frosty windows, pelted for miles by thefurious gale, white outside but black within, protected the snugtravellers who slept the sleep of the hurried and thought not ofthe storm that beat about their ears nor wondered at the stoppingof the fast express at a place where it had never stopped before.Far ahead the panting engine shed from its open fire-box an aureoleof glaring red as the stoker fed coal into its rapacious maw. Theunblinking head-light threw its rays into the thick of the blindingsnow storm, fruitlessly searching for the rails through driftsdenser than fog and filled with strange, half-visible shapes.
An order had been issued for the stopping of the fast express atB--, a noteworthy concession in these days of premeditated haste.Not in the previous career of flying 33 had it even so much asslowed down for the insignificant little station, through which itswooped at midnight the whole year round. Just before pulling outof New York on this eventful night the conductor received a commandto stop 33 at B---- and let down a single passenger, a circumstancewhich meant trouble for every despatcher along the line.
The woman who got down at B---- in the wake of the shiveringbut deferential porter, and who passed by the conductors withoutlifting her face, was without hand luggage of any description.She was heavily veiled, and warmly clad in furs. At eleven o'clockthat night she had entered the compartment in New York. Throughoutthe thirty miles or more, she had sat alone and inert beside thesnow-clogged window, peering through veil and frost into the nightthat whizzed past the pane, seeing nothing yet apparently intenton all that stretched beyond. As still, as immobile as death itselfshe had held herself from the moment of departure to the instantthat brought the porter with the word that they were whistling forB---. Without a word she arose and followed him to the vestibule,where she watched him as he unfastened the outer door and liftedthe trap. A single word escaped her lips and he held out his handto receive the crumpled bill she clutched in her gloved fingers.He did not look at it. He knew that it would amply reward him forthe brief exposure he endured on the lonely, wind-swept platformof a station, the name of which he did not know.
She took several uncertain steps in the direction of the stationwindows and stopped, as if bewildered. Already the engine waspounding the air with quick, vicious snorts in the effort to getunder way; the vestibule trap and door closed with a bang; thewheels were creaking. A bitter wind smote her in the face; the wet,hurtling sleet crashed against the thin veil, blinding her.
The door of the waiting-room across the platform opened and a manrushed toward her.
"Mrs. Wrandall?" he called above the roar of the wind.
She advanced quickly.
"What a night!" he said, as much to himself as to her. "I'm sorryyou would insist on coming to-night. To-morrow morning would havesatisfied the--"
"Is this Mr. Drake?"
They were being blown through the door into the waiting-room asshe put the question. Her voice was muffled. The man in the greatfur coat put his weight against the door to close it.
"Yes, Mrs. Wrandall. I have done all that could be done under thecircumstances. I am sorry to tell you that we still have two milesto go by motor before we reach the inn. My car is open,--I don'tpossess a limousine,--but if you will lie down in the tonneau youwill find some protection from--"
She broke in sharply, impatiently. "Pray do not consider me, Mr.Drake. I am not afraid of the blizzard."
"Then we'd better be off," said he, a note of anxiety in hisvoice,--a certain touch of nervousness. "I drive my own car. Theroad is good, but I shall drive cautiously. Ten minutes, perhaps.I--I am sorry you thought best to brave this wretched--"
"I am not sorry for myself, Mr. Drake, but for you. You have beenmost kind. I did not expect you to meet me."
"I took the liberty of telephoning to you. It was well that Idid it early in the evening. The wires are down now, I fear." Hehesitated for a moment, staring at her as if trying to penetratethe thick, wet veil. "I may have brought you on a fool's errand.You see, I--I have seen Mr. Wrandall but once, in town somewhere,and I may be wrong. Still, the coroner,--and the sheriff,--seemedto think you should be notified,--I might say questioned. That iswhy I called you up. I trust, madam, that I am mistaken."
"Yes," she said shrilly, betraying the intensity of her emotion.It was as if she lacked the power to utter more than a single word,which signified neither acquiescence nor approval.
He was ill-at-ease, distressed. "I have engaged a room for you atthe inn, Mrs. Wrandall. You did not bring a maid, I see. My wifewill come over from our place to stay with you if you--"
She shook her head. "Thank you, Mr. Drake. It will not be necessary.I came alone by choice. I shall return to New York to-night."
"But you--why, you can't do that," he cried, holding back as theystarted toward the door. "No trains stop here after ten o'clock.The locals begin running at seven in the morning. Besides--"
She interrupted him. "May we not start now, Mr. Drake? I am--well,you must see that I am suffering. I must see, I must know. Thesuspense--" She did not complete the sentence, but hurried pasthim to the door, throwing it open and bending her body to the gustthat burst in upon them.
He sprang after her, grasping her arm to lead her across the icyplatform to the automobile that stood in the lee of the building.
Disdaining his command to enter the tonneau, she stood beside thecar and waited until he cranked it and took his place at the wheel.Then she took her seat beside him and permitted him to tuck thegreat buffalo robe about her. No word was spoken. The man was astranger to her. She forgot his presence in the car.
You would know the month was March. He said: "It comes in like alion," but apparently the storm swallowed the words for she madeno response to them.
They crossed the valley and crept up the tree-covered hill, wherethe force of the gale was broken. If she heard him say: "Fierce,wasn't it?" she gave no sign, but sat hunched forward, peering aheadthrough the snow at the blurred lights that seemed so far away andyet were close at hand.
"Is that the inn?" she asked as he swerved from the road a fewmoments later.
"Yes, Mrs. Wrandall. We're here."
"Is--is he in there?"
"Where you see that lighted window upstairs." He tooted the hornvigorously as he drew up to the long, low porch. Two men dashedout from the doorway and clumsily assisted her from the car.
"Go right in, Mrs. Wrandall," said Drake. "I join you in a jiffy."
She walked between the two men into the feebly lighted officeof the inn. The keeper of the place, a dreary looking person withdread in his eyes, hurried forward. She stopped stock-still. Someone was brushing the stubborn, thickly caked snow from her longchinchilla coat.
"You must let me get you something hot to drink, madam," the landlordwas saying dolorously.
She struggled with her veil, finally tearing it away from her face.Then she took in the rather bare, cheerless room with a slow,puzzled sweep of her eyes.
"No, thank you," she replied.
"It won't be any trouble, madam," urged the other. "It's right here.The sheriff says it's all right to serve it, although it is afterhours. I run a respectable, law-abiding house. I wouldn't think ofoffering it to anyone if it was in violation--"
"Never mind, Burton," interposed a big man, approaching. "Let thelady choose for herself. If she wants it, she'll say so. I am thesheriff, madam. This gentleman is the coroner, Dr. Sheef. We waitedup for you after Mr. Drake said you'd got the fast train to stopfor you. To-morrow morning would have done quite as well. I'm sorryyou came to-night in all this blizzard."
He was staring as if fascinated at the white, colourless face ofthe woman who with nervous fingers unfastened the heavy coat thatenveloped her slender figure. She was young and strikingly beautiful,despite the intense pallor that overspread her face. Her dark,questioning, dreading eyes looked up into his with an expressionhe was never to forget. It combined dread, horror, doubt and asmouldering anger that seemed to overcast all other emotions thatlay revealed to him.
"This is a--what is commonly called a 'road-house'?" she askeddully, her eyes narrowing suddenly as if in pain.
The inn-keeper made haste to resent the implied criticism.
"My place is a respectable, law-abiding--"
The sheriff waved him aside.
"It is an inn during the winter, Mrs. Wrandall, and a road-housein the summer, if that makes it plain to you. I will say, however,that Burton has always kept well within the law. This is thefirst--er--real bit of trouble he's had, and I won't say it's hisfault. Keep quiet, Burton. No one is accusing you of anything wrong.Don't whine about it."
"But my place is ruined," groaned the doleful one. "It's got ablack eye now. Not that I blame you, madam, but you can see how--"
He quailed before the steady look in her eyes, and turned awaymumbling.
There were half a dozen men in the room, besides the speakers,sober-faced fellows who conversed in undertones and studiously kepttheir backs to the woman who had just come among them. They weregrouped about the roaring fireplace in the lower end of the room.Steam arose from their heavy winters garments. Their caps werestill drawn far down over their ears. These were men who had beenout in the night.
"There is a fire in the reception-room, madam," said the coroner;"and the proprietor's wife to look out for you if you should requireanything. Will you go in there and compose yourself before goingupstairs? Or, if you would prefer waiting until morning, I shallnot insist on the--er--ordeal to-night."
"I prefer going up there to-night," said she steadily.
The men looked at each other, and the sheriff spoke. "Mr. Drake isquite confident the--the man is your husband. It's an ugly affair,Mrs. Wrandall. We had no means of identifying him until Drake camein this evening, out of curiosity you might say. For your sake, Ihope he is mistaken."
"Would you mind telling me something about it before I go upstairs?I am quite calm. I am prepared for anything. You need not hesitate."
"As you wish, madam. You will go into the reception-room, if youplease. Burton, is Mrs. Wrandall's room quite ready for her?"
"I shall not stay here to-night," interposed Mrs. Wrandall. "Youneed not keep the room for me."
"But, my dear Mrs. Wrandall--"
"I shall wait in the railway station until morning if necessary.But not here."
The coroner led the way to the cosy little room off the office.She followed with the sheriff. The men looked worn and haggard inthe bright light that met them, as if they had not known sleep orrest for many hours.
"The assistant district attorney was here until eleven, but wenthome to get a little rest. It's been a hard case for all of us--anasty one," explained the sheriff, as he placed a chair in frontof the fire for her. She sank into it limply.
"Go on, please," she murmured, and shook her head at the nervouslittle woman who bustled up and inquired if she could do anythingto make her more comfortable.
The sheriff cleared his throat. "Well, it happened last night. Allday long we've been trying to find out who he is, and ever sinceeight o'clock this morning we've been searching for the woman whocame here with him. She has disappeared as completely as if swallowedby the earth. Not a sign of a clew---not a shred. There's nothingto show when she left the inn or by what means. All we know is thatthe door to that room up there was standing half open when Burtonpassed by it at seven o'clock this morning---that is to say, yesterdaymorning, for this is now Wednesday. It is quite clear, from this,that she neglected to close the door tightly when she came out,probably through haste or fear, and the draft in the hall blew itwider open during the night. Burton says the inn was closed forthe night at half-past ten. He went to bed. She must have slippedout after every one was sound asleep. There were no other guestson that floor. Burton and his wife sleep on this floor, and theservants are at the top of the house and in a wing. No one hearda sound. We have not the remotest idea when the thing happened, orwhen she left the place. Dr. Sheef says the man had been dead forsix or eight hours when he first saw him, and that was very soonafter Burton's discovery. Burton, on finding the door open, naturallysuspected that his guests had skipped out during the night to avoidpaying the bill, and lost no time in entering the room.
"He found the man lying on the bed, sprawled out, face upward andas dead as a mack--I should say, quite dead. He was partly dressed.His coat and vest hung over the back of a chair. A small servicecarving knife, belonging to the inn, had been driven squarely intohis heart and was found sticking there. Burton says that the man,on their arrival at the inn, about nine o'clock at night, orderedsupper sent up to the room. The tray of dishes, with most of the fooduntouched, and an empty champagne bottle, was found on the servicetable near the bed. One of the chairs was overturned. The servantwho took the meal to the room says that the woman was sitting atthe window with her wraps on, motor veil and all, just as she waswhen she came into the place. The man gave all the directions,the woman apparently paying no attention to what was going on. Thewaitress left the room without seeing her face. She had instructionsnot to come for the tray until morning.
"That was the last time the man was seen alive. No one has seenthe woman since the door closed after the servant, who distinctlyremembers hearing the key turn in the lock as she went down thehall. It seems pretty clear that the man ate and drank but not thewoman. Her food remained untouched on the plate and her g
"Go on, please," said she levelly.
"That's all there is to say so far as the actual crime is concerned.There were signs of a struggle,--but it isn't necessary to go intothat. Now, as to their arrival at the inn. The blizzard had notset in. Last night was dark, of course, as there is no moon, butit was clear and rather warm for the time of year. The couple camehere about nine o'clock in a high power runabout machine, whichthe man drove. They had no hand-baggage and apparently had run outfrom New York. Burton says he was on the point of refusing themaccommodations when the man handed him a hundred dollar bill.It was more than Burton's cupidity could withstand. They did notregister. The state license numbers had been removed from theautomobile, which was of foreign make. Of course, it was only aquestion of time until we could have found out who the car belongedto. It is perfectly obvious why he removed the numbers."
At this juncture Drake entered the room. Mrs. Wrandall did not atfirst recognise him.
"It has stopped snowing," announced the new-comer.
"Oh, it is Mr. Drake," she murmured. "We have a little French car,painted red," she announced to the sheriff without giving Drakeanother thought.
"And this one is red, madam," said the sheriff, with a glance atthe coroner. Drake nodded his head. Mrs. Wrandall's body stiffenedperceptibly, as if deflecting a blow. "It is still standing in thegarage, where he left it on his arrival."
"Did no one see the face of--of the woman?" asked Mrs. Wrandall,rather querulously. "It seems odd that no one should have seen herface," she went on without waiting for an answer.
"It's not strange, madam, when you consider ALL the circumstances.She was very careful not to remove her veil or her coat until thedoor was locked. That proves that she was not the sort of womanwe usually find gallavanting around with men regardless of--ahem,I beg your pardon. This must be very distressing to you."
"I am not sure, Mr. Sheriff, that it IS my husband who lies upthere. Please remember that," she said steadily. "It is easier tohear the details now, before I KNOW, than it will be afterward ifit should turn out to be as Mr. Drake declares."
"I see," said the sheriff, marvelling.
"Besides, Mr. Drake is not POSITIVE," put in the coroner hopefully.
"I am reasonably certain," said Drake.
"Then all the more reason why I should have the story first," saidshe, with a shiver that no one failed to observe.
The sheriff resumed his conclusions. "Women of the kind I referredto a moment ago don't care whether they're seen or not. In fact,they're rather brazen about it. But this one was different. Shewas as far from that as it was possible for her to be. We haven'tbeen able to find any one who saw her face or who can give the leastidea as to what she looks like, excepting a general description ofher figure, her carriage, and the out-door garments she wore. Wehave reason to believe she was young. She was modestly dressed. Hercoat was one of those heavy ulster affairs, such as a woman usesin motoring or on a sea-voyage. There was a small sable stole abouther neck. The skirt was short, and she wore high black shoes ofthe thick walking type. Judging from Burton's description she musthave been about your size and figure, Mrs. Wrandall. Isn't thatso, Mrs. Burton?"
The inn-keeper's wife spoke. "Yes, Mr. Harben, I'd say so myself.About five feet six, I'd judge; rather slim and graceful-like, inspite of the big coat."
Mrs. Wrandall was watching the woman's face. "I am five feet six,"she said, as if answering a question.
The sheriff cleared his throat somewhat needlessly.
"Burton says she acted as if she were a lady," he went on. "Not thekind that usually comes out here on such expeditions, he admits.She did not speak to any one, except once in very low tones to theman she was with, and then she was standing by the fireplace out inthe main office, quite a distance from the desk. She went upstairsalone, and he gave some orders to Burton before following her.That was the last time Burton saw her. The waitress went up witha specially prepared supper about half an hour later."
"It seems quite clear, Mrs. Wrandall, that she robbed the man afterstabbing him," said the coroner.
Mrs. Wrandall started. "Then she was NOT a lady, after all," shesaid quickly. There was a note of relief in her voice. It was asif she had put aside a half-formed conclusion.
"His pockets were empty. Not a penny had been left. Watch, cuff-links,scarf pin, cigarette case, purse and bill folder,--all gone. Burtonhad seen most of these articles in the office."
"Isn't it--but no! Why should I be the one to offer a suggestionthat might be construed as a defence for this woman?"
"You were about to suggest, madam, that some one else might havetaken the valuables--is that it?" cried the sheriff.
"Had you thought of it, Mr. Sheriff?"
"I had not. It isn't reasonable. No one about this place is suspected.We have thought of this, however: the murderess may have takenall of these things away with her in order to prevent immediateidentification of her victim. She may have been clever enough forthat. It would give her a start."
"Not an unreasonable conclusion, when you stop to consider, Mr.Sheriff, that the man took the initiative in that very particular,"said Mrs. Wrandall in such a self-contained way that the three menlooked at her in wonder. Then she came abruptly to her feet. "Itis very late, gentlemen. I am ready to go upstairs, Mr. Sheriff."
"I must warn you, madam, that Mr. Drake is reasonably certain thatit is your husband," said the coroner uncomfortably. "You may notbe prepared for the shock that--"
"I shall not faint, Dr. Sheef. If it IS my husband I shall ask youto leave me alone in the room with him for a little while." Thefinal word trailed out into a long, tremulous wail, showing how nearshe was to the breaking point in her wonderful effort at self-control.The men looked away hastily. They heard her draw two or three deep,quavering breaths; they could almost feel the tension that she wasexercising over herself.
The doctor turned after a moment and spoke very gently, but withprofessional firmness. "You must not think of venturing out in thiswretched night, madam. It would be the worst kind of folly. Surelyyou will be guided by me--by your own common sense. Mrs. Burtonwill be with you--"
"Thank you, Dr. Sheef," she interposed calmly. "If what we all fearshould turn out to be the truth, I could not stay here. I couldnot breathe. I could not live. If, on the other hand, Mr. Drake ismistaken, I shall stay. But if it is my husband, I cannot remainunder the same roof with him, even though he be dead. I do notexpect you to understand my feelings. It would be asking too muchof men,--too much."
"I think I understand," murmured Drake.
"Come," said the sheriff, arousing himself with an effort.
She moved swiftly after him. Drake and the coroner, followingclose behind with Mrs. Burton, could not take their eyes from theslender, graceful figure. She was a revelation to them. Feeling asthey did that she was about to be confronted by the most appallingcrisis imaginable, they could not but marvel at her composure.Drake's mind dwelt on the stories of the guillotine and the heroineswho went up to it in those bloody days without so much as a quiverof dread. Somehow, to him, this woman was a heroine.
They passed into the hall and mounted the stairs. At the far endof the corridor, a man was seated in front of a closed door. Hearose as the party approached. The sheriff signed for him to openthe door he guarded. As he did so, a chilly blast of air blew uponthe faces of those in the hall. The curtains in the window of theroom were flapping and whipping in the wind. Mrs. Wrandall caughther breath. For the briefest instant, it seemed as though she wason the point of faltering. She dropped farther behind the sheriff,her limbs suddenly stiff, her hand going out to the wall as if forsupport. The next moment she was moving forward resolutely intothe icy, dimly lighted room.
A single electric light gleamed in the corner beside the bureau.Near the window stood the bed. She went swiftly toward it, hereyes fastened upon the ridge that ran through the centre of it: astill
With nervous fingers, the attendant lifted the sheet at the headof the bed and turned it back. As he let it fall across the chestof the dead man, he drew back and turned his face away.
She bent forward and then straightened her figure to its fullheight, without for an instant removing her gaze from the face ofthe man who lay before her: a dark-haired man grey in death, whomust have been beautiful to look upon in the flush of life.
For a long time she stood there looking, as motionless as the objecton which she gazed. Behind her were the tense, keen-eyed men, notone of whom seemed to breathe during the grim minutes that passed.The wind howled about the corners of the inn, but no one heard it.They heard the beating of their hearts, even the ticking of theirwatches, but not the wail of the wind.
At last her hands, claw-like in their tenseness, went slowly toher temples. Her head drooped slightly forward, and a great shudderran through her body. The coroner started forward, expecting herto collapse.
"Please go away," she was saying in an absolutely emotionless voice."Let me stay here alone for a little while."
That was all. The men relaxed. They looked at each other with asingle question in their eyes. Was it quite safe to leave her alonewith her dead? They hesitated.
She turned on them suddenly, spreading her arms in a wide gestureof self-absolution. Her sombre eyes swept the group.
"I can do no harm. This man is mine. I want to look at him for thelast time--alone. Will you go?"
"Do you mean, madam, that you intend to--" began the coroner inalarm.
She clasped her hands. "I mean that I shall take my last look athim now--and here. Then you may do what you like with him. He isyour dead--not mine. I do not want him. Can you understand? _I_ DONOT WANT THIS DEAD THING. But there is something I would say tohim, something that I must say. Something that no one must hearbut the good God who knows how much he has hurt me. I want to sayit close to those grey, horrid ears. Who knows? He may hear me!"
Wondering, the others backed from the room. She watched them untilthey closed the door.
Listening, they heard her lower the window. It squealed like athing 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," hemuttered.
"A wonderful nerve," said Dr. Sheef. "Positively wonderful. I'venever seen anything like it."
"Her own husband, too," said Mrs. Burton. "Why, I--I should havesaid she'd go into hysterics. Such a handsome man he was."
"I guess, from what I've heard of this fellow, Wrandall, he's notbeen 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 utteringwords like that!"
"Every one in the city knows what sort of a man he's been," saidDrake.
"He comes of a fine family," said the coroner. "One of the best inNew 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 mengrinned.
"I've an idea she's had the devil's own time with him," mused thesheriff, 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 worryany more about his not coming home nights. I say, this business willcreate a fearful sensation, sheriff. The Four Hundred will have aconniption 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 thewomen he's been trailing with lately. Then we can sift 'em downuntil the right one is left. It ought to be easy."
"I'm not so sure of it," said the coroner, shaking his head. "Ihave a feeling that she isn't one of the ordinary type. It wouldn'tsurprise 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 behindher," acknowledged the sheriff. "She's a wonder, that's all I'vegot to say."
At that instant the door opened and Mrs. Wrandall appeared. Shestopped short, confronting the huddled group, dry-eyed but as pallidas a ghost. Her eyes were wide, apparently unseeing; her colourlesslips were parted in the drawn rigidity that suggested but onething to the professional man who looks: the RISIS SARDONICUS ofthe 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 expressionchanged; she seemed to be aware of their presence for the firsttime. Her eyes narrowed in a curious manner, and the rigid lipsseemed to surge with blood, presenting the effect of a queer,swift-fading smile that lingered long after her face was set andserious.
"I neglected to raise the window, Dr. Sheef," she said in a lowvoice. "It was very cold in there." She shivered slightly. "Willyou be so kind as to tell me what I am to do now? What formalitiesremain 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 donot 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, andlet me do it so that I may leave this--this unhappy place withoutdelay. 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 theway."
"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 thoughtperhaps there might be legal restraint." She sent a swift glanceover her shoulder, and then spoke in a high, shrill voice, indicativeof 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 ifexpecting 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 unmistakableemphasis. The man hesitated, and then did as he was ordered, butnot without a curious look at the wife of the dead man, whose backwas toward him.
"He will not find anything disturbed, doctor," said she, divininghis thought. "I had the feeling that something was creeping towardus out of that room."
"You have every reason to be nervous, madam. The situation has beenmost extraordinary,--most trying," said the coroner. "I beg of youto come downstairs, where we may attend to a few necessary detailswithout 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 oncefor the inn-keeper, who came in and glowered at her as if she werewholly responsible for the blight that had been put upon his place.
"Will you be good enough to send some one to the station with mein 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 andabstracted a card which she submitted to the coroner.
"You will find, Dr. Sheef, that the car my husband came up here inbelongs to me. This is the card issued by the State. It is in myname. The factory number is there. You may compare it with the oneon the car. My husband took the car without obtaining my consent."
"Joy riding," said Burton
"If no other means is offered, Dr. Sheef, I shall ask you to letme take the car. I am perfectly capable of driving. I have drivenit in the country for two seasons. All I ask is that some one bedirected to go with me to the station. No! Better than that, ifthere 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 thanthirty miles. I refuse to spend the night in this house. That isfinal."
They drew apart to confer, leaving her sitting before the fire,a stark figure that seemed to detach itself entirely from itssurroundings and their companionship. At last, the coroner came toher side and touched her arm.
"I don't know what the district attorney and the police will sayto it, Mrs. Wrandall, but I shall take it upon myself to deliverthe car to you. The sheriff has gone out to compare the numbers. Ifhe 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 nodifficulty 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 carto the State after it has served my purpose to-night. I shall notride in it again."
"The sheriff has a man who will ride with you to the station orthe city, whichever you may elect. Now, may I trouble you to makeanswer to certain questions I shall write out for you at once? Theman 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 individualin a great buffalo coat waited for her outside, hiccoughing andbandying jest with the half-frozen men who had spent the night withhim in the forlorn hope of finding THE GIRL.
Mrs. Wrandall gave final instructions to the coroner and his deputy,who happened to be the undertaker's assistant. She had answered allthe questions that had been put to her, and had signed the documentwith a firm, untrembling hand. Her veil had been lowered since thebeginning of the examination. They did not see her face; they onlyheard the calm, low voice, sweet with fatigue and dread.
"I shall notify my brother-in-law as soon as I reach the city," shesaid. "He will attend to everything. Mr. Leslie Wrandall, I mean.My husband's only brother. He will be here in the morning, Dr. Sheef.My own apartment is not open. I have been staying in a hotel sincemy return from Europe two days ago. But I shall attend to theopening of the place to-morrow. You will find me there."
The coroner hesitated a moment before putting the question thathad come to his mind as she spoke.
"Two days ago, madam? May I inquire where your husband has beenliving during your absence abroad? When did you last see him alive?"
She did not reply for many seconds, and then it was with a perceptibleeffort.
"I have not seen him since my return until--to-night," she replied,a hoarse note creeping into her voice. "He did not meet me onmy return. His brother Leslie came to the dock. He--he said thatChallis, who came back from Europe two weeks ahead of me, had beencalled to St. Louis on very important, business. My husband hadbeen living at his club, I understand. That is all I can tell you,sir."
"I see," said the coroner gently.
He opened the door for her and she passed out. A number of menwere grouped about the throbbing motor-car. They fell away as sheapproached, silently fading into the shadows like so many vast,unwholesome ghosts. The sheriff and Drake came forward.
"This man will go with you, madam," said the sheriff, pointingto an unsteady figure beside the machine. "He is the only one whowill undertake it. They're all played out, you see. He has beendrinking, but only on account of the hardships he has undergoneto-night. You will be quite safe with Morley."
No snow was falling, but a bleak wind blew meanly. The air was freefrom particles of sleet; wetly the fall of the night clung to theearth where it had fallen.
"If he will guide me to the Post-road, that is all I ask," saidshe hurriedly. Involuntarily she glanced upward. The curtains inan upstairs window were blowing inward and a dim light shone outupon the roof of the porch. She shuddered and then climbed up tothe seat and took her place at the wheel.
A few moments later, the three men standing in the middle of theroad watched the car as it rushed away.
"By George, she's a wonder!" said the sheriff.