The Hollow of Her Hand, p.4
WHILE THE MOB WAITED
The next day but one, in the huge old-fashioned mansion ofthe Wrandalls in lower Fifth Avenue, in the drawing-room directlybeneath the chamber in which Challis was born, the impressive butgrimly conventional funeral services were held.
Contrasting sharply with the sombre, absolutely correct atmosphereof the gloomy interior was the exterior display of joyous curiositythat must have jarred severely on the high-bred sensibilitiesof the chief mourners, not to speak of the invited guests who hadbeen obliged to pass between rows of gaping bystanders in order toreach the portals of the house of grief, and who must have reckonedwith extreme distaste the cost of subsequent departure. A dozenraucous-voiced policemen were employed to keep back the hundredsthat thronged the sidewalk and blocked the street. Curiosity wasrampant. Ever since the moment that the body of Challis Wrandallwas carried into the house of his father, a motley, varying crowdof people shifted restlessly in front of the mansion, filled withgruesome interest in the absolutely unseen, animated by the slyhope that something sensational might happen if they waited longenough.
Men, women, children struggled for places nearest the tall ironfence surrounding the spare yard, and gazed with awed but wistfuleyes at the curtained windows and at the huge bow of crepe on themassive portals. In hushed voices they spoke of the murder andexpressed a single opinion among them all: the law ought to makeshort work of her! If this thing had happened in England, saidthey who scoff at our own laws, there wouldn't be any foolishnessabout the business: the woman would be buried in quick-lime beforeyou could know what you were talking about. The law in this countryis a joke, said they, with great irritability. Why can't we do thebusiness up, sharp and quick, as they do in England? Get it overwith, that's the ticket. What's the sense of dragging it out for ayear? Send 'em to the chair or hang 'em while everybody's interested,not when the thing's half forgotten. Who wants to see a personhanged after the crime's been forgotten? And then, think of thesaving to the State? Hang 'em, men or women, and in a couple ofyears' time there wouldn't be a tenth part of the murders we havenow. Statistics prove, went on the wise ones, that only one out ofevery hundred is hanged. What's that? The jury system is rotten!No sirree, we are 'way behind England in that respect. Just lookat that big murder case in London last month! Remember it? Murdererwas hanged inside of three weeks after he was caught. That's theway to do it! And the London police catch 'em too. Our police standaround doing nothing until the criminal has got a week's start, andthen--oh, well, what can you expect? "Now if I was at the head ofthe New York department I'd have that woman behind the bars beforenight, that's what I'd do. You bet your life, I would," said morethan one. And no one questioned his ability to do so.
And then all of them would growl at the policemen who pushed themback from the gates, and call them "scabs" and "mutts" in repressedtones, and snarl under their breath that they wouldn't be pushingpeople around like that if they didn't have stars and clubs and agreat idea of their own importance. "If it wasn't for the family athome dependin' on me for support, I'd take a punch at that stiff,so help me God, even if I went to the Island for it!"
And so it WAS and ever shall be, world without end.
Newsboys, hoarse-voiced and pipe-voiced, mingled with the crowd,and shrieked their extras under the very noses of the always-aloofWrandalls, who up to this day had turned them up at the sight ofa vulgar extra, but who now looked down them with a trembling ofthe nostrils that left no room for doubt as to their present stateof mind.
Up to the very portals these assiduous peddlers yelped for penniesand gave in exchange the latest headlines. "All about Mr. ChallisWran'all's fun'ral!" "Horrible extry!" Ding-donging the thing inthe very ears of the dead man himself!
Motor after motor, carriage after carriage, rolled up to the curband emptied its sober-faced, self-conscious occupants in frontof the door with the great black bow; with each arrival the crowdsurged forward, and names were muttered in undertones, passing fromlip to lip until every one in the street knew that Mr. So-and-So,Mrs. This-or-That, the What-do-you-call-ems and others of thecity's most exclusive but most garishly advertised society leadershad entered the house of mourning. It was a great show for theplebeian spectators. Much better than Miss So-and-So's wedding,said one woman who had attended the aforesaid ceremony as a unitin the well-dressed mob that almost wrecked the carriages in thedesire to see the terrified bride. Better than a circus, said a manwho held his little daughter above the heads of the crowd so thatshe might see the fine lady in a wild-beast fur. Swellest funeralNew York ever had, remarked another, excepting one 'way back whenhe was a kid.
At the corner below stood two patrol wagons, also waiting.
Inside the house sat the carefully selected guests, hushed andstiff and gratified. (Not because they were attending a funeral,but because the occasion served to separate them from the chaff:they were the elect.) It would be going too far to intimate thatthey were proud of themselves, but it is not stretching it verymuch to say that they counted noses with considerable satisfactionand were glad that they had not been left out. The real, high-watermark in New York society was established at this memorable function.It was quite plain to every one that Mrs. Wrandall,--THE Mrs.Wrandall,--had made out the list of guests to be invited to thefuneral of her son. It was a blue-stocking affair. You couldn'timagine anything more so. Afterwards, the two hundred who werethere looked with utmost pity and not a little scorn on the othertwo hundred who failed to get in, notwithstanding there was ampleroom in the spacious house for all of them. There wasn't a questionableguest in the house, unless one were to question the right of thedead man's widow to be there--and, after all, she was upstairs withthe family. Even so, she was a Wrandall--remotely, of course, butrecognisable.
Yes, they counted noses, so to say. As one after the other arrivedand was ushered into the huge drawing-room, he or she was accordeda congratulatory look from those already assembled, a tributereturned with equal amiability. Each one noted who else was there,and each one said to himself that at last they really had somethingall to themselves. It was truly a pleasure, a relief, to be able todo something without being pushed about by people who didn't belongbut thought they did. They sat back,--stiffly, of course,--and inutter stillness confessed that there could be such a thing as thesurvival of the fittest. Yes, there wasn't a nose there that couldn'tbe counted with perfect serenity. It was a notable occasion.
Mrs. Wrandall, the elder, had made out the list. She did not consulther daughter-in-law in the matter. It is true that Sara forestalledher in a way by sending word, through Leslie, that she would be pleasedif Mrs. Wrandall would issue invitations to as many of Challis'sfriends as she deemed advisable. As for herself, she had no wishin the matter; she would be satisfied with whatever arrangementsthe family cared to make.
It is not to be supposed, from the foregoing, that Mrs. Wrandall,the elder, was not stricken to the heart by the lamentable deathof her idol. He WAS her idol. He was her first-born, he was herlove-born. He came to her in the days when she loved her husbandwithout much thought of respecting him. She was beginning toregard him as something more than a lover when Leslie came, so itwas different. When their daughter Vivian was born, she was plainlyannoyed but wholly respectful. Mr. Wrandall was no longer the lover;he was her lord and master. The head of the house of Wrandall wasa person to be looked up to, to be respected and admired by her,for he was a very great man, but he was dear to her only becausehe was the father of Challis, the first-born.
In the order of her nature, Challis therefore was her most dearlybeloved, Vivian the least desired and last in her affections aswell as in sequence.
Strangely enough, the three of them perfected a curiously significantrecord of conjugal endowments. Challis had always been the wild,wayward, unrestrained one, and by far the most lovable; Leslie,almost as good looking but with scarcely a noticeable trace of thecharm that made his brother attractive; Vivian, handsome, selfishand as cheerless as the wind th
As for Mr. Redmond Wrandall he was a very proper and dignifiedgentleman, and old for his years.
Secretly, Vivian was his favourite. Moreover, possessing theusual contrariness of man, and having been at one time or other, ahot-blooded lover, he professed--also in secret--a certain admirationfor the beautiful, warm-hearted wife of his eldest son. He lookedupon her from a man's point of view. He couldn't help that. Notonce, but many times, had he said to himself that perhaps Challiswas lucky to have got her instead of one of the girls his motherhad chosen for him out of the minute elect.
It may be seen, or rather surmised, that if the house of Wrandallhad not been so admirably centred under its own vine and fig tree,it might have become divided against itself without much of aneffort.
Mrs. Redmond Wrandall was the vine and fig tree.
And now they had brought her dearly beloved son home to her,murdered and--disgraced. If it had been either of the others, shecould have said: "God's will be done." Instead, she cried out thatGod had turned against her.
Leslie had had the bad taste--or perhaps it was misfortune--toblurt out an agonised "I told you so" at a time when the familywas sitting numb and hushed under the blight of the first horridblow. He did not mean to be unfeeling. It was the truth burstingfrom his unhappy lips.
"I knew Chal would come to this--I knew it," he had said. His armwas about the quivering shoulders of his mother as he said it.
She looked up, a sob breaking in her throat. For a long time shelooked into the face of her second son.
"How can you--how dare you say such a thing as that?" she cried,aghast.
He coloured, and drew her closer to him.
"I--I didn't mean it," he faltered.
"You have always taken sides against him," began his mother.
"Please, mother," he cried miserably.
"You say this to me NOW," she went on. "You who are left to takehis place in my affection.--Why, Leslie, I--I--"
Vivian interposed. "Les is upset, mamma darling. You know he lovedChallis as deeply as any of us loved him."
Afterwards the girl said to Leslie when they were quite alone:"She will never forgive you for that, Les. It was a beastly thingto say."
He bit his lip, which trembled. "She's never cared for me as shecared for Chal. I'm sorry if I've made it worse."
"See here, Leslie, was Chal so--so--"
"Yes. I meant what I said a while ago. It was sure to happen tohim one time or another. Sara's had a lot to put up with."
"Sara! If she had been the right sort of a wife, this never wouldhave happened."
"After all is said and done, Vivie, Sara's in a position to rub itin on us if she's of a mind to do so. She won't do it, of course,but--I wonder if she isn't gloating, just the same."
"Haven't we treated her as one of us?" demanded she, dabbing herhandkerchief in her eyes. "Since the wedding, I mean. Haven't webeen kind to her?"
"Oh, I think she understands us perfectly," said her brother.
"I wonder what she will do now?" mused Vivian, in that speechcasting her sister-in-law out of her narrow little world as onewould throw aside a burnt-out match.
"She will profit by experience," said he, with some pleasure in asuperior wisdom.
In Mrs. Wrandall's sitting-room at the top of the broad stairway,sat the family,--that is to say, the IMMEDIATE family,--a solemn-facedfootman in front of the door that stood fully ajar so that theoccupants might hear the words of the minister as they ascended,sonorous and precise, from the hall below. A minister was he whoknew the buttered side of his bread. His discourse was to be abeautiful one. He stood at the front of the stairs and faced theassembled listeners in the hall, the drawing-room and the entresol,but his infinitely touching words went up one flight and lodged.
Sara Wrandall sat a little to the left of and behind Mrs. RedmondWrandall, about whom were grouped the three remaining Wrandalls,father, son and daughter, closely drawn together. Well to the forewere Wrandall uncles and cousins and aunts, and one or two carefullychosen blood-relations to the mistress of the house, whose handhad long been set against kinsmen of less exalted promise.
The room was dark. A forgotten French clock ticked madly andtinkled its quarter-hours with surpassing sprightliness. Time wenton regardless. One of the Wrandall uncles, obeying a look from hiswife, tiptoed across the room and tried to find a way to subduethe jingling disturber. But it chimed in his face, and he put hisblack kid glove over his lips. The floor creaked horribly as hewent back to his chair.
Beside Sara Wrandall, on the small pink divan, sat a stranger inthis sombre company: a young woman in black, whose pale face wasuncovered, and whose lashes were lifted so rarely that one couldnot know of the deep, real pain that lay behind them, in her Irishblue eyes.
She had arrived at the house an hour or two before the time set forthe ceremony, in company with the widow. True to her resolution,the widow of Challis Wrandall had remained away from the home ofhis people until the last hour. She had been consulted, to be sure,in regard to the final arrangements, but the meetings had takenplace in her own apartment, many blocks distant from the house inlower Fifth Avenue. The afternoon before she had received RedmondWrandall and Leslie, his son. She had not sent for them. They cameperfunctorily and not through any sense of obligation. These twoat least knew that sympathy was not what she wanted, but peace.Twice during the two trying days, Leslie had come to see her. Viviantelephoned.
On the occasion of his first visit, Leslie had met the guest in thehouse. The second time he called, he made it a point to ask Saraall about her.
It was he who gently closed the door after the two women when, onthe morning of the funeral, they entered the dark, flower-ladenroom in which stood the casket containing the body of his brother.He left them alone together in that room for half an hour or more,and it was he who went forward to meet them when they came forth.Sara leaned on his arm as she ascended the stairs to the room wherethe others were waiting. The ashen-faced girl followed, her eyeslowered, her gloved hands clenched.
Mrs. Wrandall, the elder, kissed Sara and drew her down beside heron the couch. To her own surprise, as well as that of the others,Sara broke down and wept bitterly. After all, she was sorry forChallis's mother. It was the human instinct; she could not holdout against it. And the older woman put away the ancient grudgeshe held against this mortal enemy and dissolved into tears of realcompassion.
A little later she whispered brokenly in Sara's ear: "My dear, mydear, this has brought us together. I hope you will learn to loveme."
Sara caught her breath, but uttered no word. She looked into hermother-in-law's eyes, and smiled through her tears. The Wrandalls,looking on in amaze, saw the smile reflected in the face of theolder woman. Then it was that Vivian crossed quickly and put herarms about the shoulders of her sister-in-law. The white flag onboth sides.
Hetty Castleton stood alone and wavering, just inside the door. Nostranger situation could be imagined than the one in which thisunfortunate girl found herself at the present moment. She was virtuallyin the hands of those who would destroy her; she was in the houseof those who most deeply were affected by her act on that fatalnight. Among them all she stood, facing them, listening to themoans and sobs, and yet her limbs did not give way beneath her....
Some one gently touched her arm. It was Leslie. She shrank back,a fearful look in her eyes. In the semi-darkness he failed to notethe expression.
"Won't you sit here?" he asked, indicating the little pink divanagainst the wall. "Forgive me for letting you stand so long."
She looked about
Her lips parted, but the word of thanks did not come forth. Astrange, inarticulate sound, almost a gasp, came instead. Pallidas a ghost, she dropped limply to the divan, and dug her fingersinto the satiny seat. As if fascinated, she stared over the blackheads of the three women immediately in front of her at the fulllength portrait hanging where the light from the hall fell fullupon it: the portrait of a dashing youth in riding togs.
A moment later Sara Wrandall came over and sat beside her. The girlshivered as with a mighty chill when the warm hand of her friendfell upon hers and enveloped it in a firm clasp.
"His mother kissed me," whispered Sara. "Did you see?"
The girl could not reply. She could only stare at the open door.A small, hatchet-faced man had come up from below and was noddinghis head to Leslie Wrandall,--a man with short side whiskers, anda sepulchral look in his eyes. Then, having received a sign fromLeslie, he tiptoed away. Almost instantly the voices of peoplesinging softly came from some distant, remote part of the house.
And then, a little later, the perfectly modulated voice of a manin prayer.
Back of her, Wrandalls; beside her, Wrandalls; beneath her, friendsof the Wrandalls; outside, the rabble, those who would join withthese black, raven-like spectres in tearing her to pieces if theybut knew!
Sitting, with his hand to his head, Leslie Wrandall found himselfstaring at the face of this stranger among them; not with anydefinable interest, but because she happened to be in his line ofvision and her face was so singularly white that it stood out incameo-like relief against all this ebony setting.
The droning voice came up from below, each well-chosen word distinctand clear: tribute beautiful to the irreproachable character of thedeceased. Leslie watched the face of the girl, curiously fascinatedby the set, emotionless features, and yet without a conscious interestin her. He was dully sensible to the fact that she was beautiful,uncommonly beautiful. It did not occur to him to feel that she wasout of place among them, that she belonged downstairs. Somehowshe was a part of the surroundings, like the spectre at the feast.
If he could have witnessed all that transpired while Sara was inthe room below with her guest--her companion, as he had come toregard her without having in fact been told as much,--he would havebeen lost in a maze of the most overwhelming emotions.
To go back: The door had barely closed behind the two women whenHetty's trembling knees gave way beneath her. With a low moan ofhorror, she slipped to the floor, covering her face with her hands.
Sara knelt beside her.
"Come," she said gently, but firmly; "I must exact this much ofyou. If we are to go on together, as we have planned, you muststand beside me at his bier. Together we must look upon him for thelast time. You must see him as I saw him up there in the country.I had my cruel blow that night. It is your turn now. I will notblame you for what you did. But if you expect me to go on believingthat you did a brave thing that night, you must convince me thatyou are not a coward now. It is the only test I shall put you to.Come; I know it is hard, I know it is terrible, but it is the truetest of your ability to go through with it to the end. I shall knowthen that you have the courage to face anything that may come up."
She waited a long time, her hand on the girl's shoulder. At lastHetty arose.
"You are right," she said hoarsely. "I should not be afraid."
Later on, they sat over against the wall beyond the casket, intowhich they had peered with widely varying emotions. Sara had said:
"You know that I loved him."
The girl put her hands to her eyes and bowed her head.
"Oh, how can you be so merciful to me?"
"Because he was not," said Sara, white-lipped. Hetty glanced atthe half-averted face with queer, indescribable expression in hereyes.
Then her nerves gave way. She shrank away from the casket,whimpering like a frightened child, mouttering, almost gibberingin the extremity of despair. She had lived in dread of this ordeal;it had been promised the day before by Sara Wrandall, whose willwas law to her. Now she had come to the very apex of realisation.She felt that her mind was going, that her blood was freezing. Inresponse to a sudden impulse she sprang up and ran, blindly andwithout thought, bringing up against the wall with such force thatshe dropped to the floor, quite insensible.
When she regained her senses, she was lying back in Sara Wrandall'sarms, and a soft faraway voice was pleading with her to wake, tosay something, to open her eyes.
If Leslie Wrandall could have looked in upon them at that moment,or at any time during the half an hour that followed, he would haveknown who was the slayer of his brother, but it is doubtful if hecould have had the heart to denounce her to the world.
When they were ready to leave the room, Hetty had regained controlof her nerves to a most surprising extent, a condition unmistakablydue to the influence of the older woman.
"I can trust myself now, Mrs. Wrandall," said Hetty steadily asthey hesitated for an instant before turning the knob of the door.
"Then, I shall ask YOU to open the door," said Sara, drawing back.
Without a word or a look, Hetty opened the door and permitted theother to pass out before her. Then she followed, closing it gently,even deliberately, but not without a swift glance over her shoulderinto the depths of the room they were leaving.
Of the two, Sara Wrandall was the paler as they went up the broadstaircase with Leslie.
The funeral oration by the Rev. Dr. Maltby dragged on. Among allhis hearers there was but one who believed the things he said ofChallis Wrandall, and she was one of two persons who, so the sayinggoes, are the last to find a man out; his mother and his sister.But in this instance the mother was alone. The silent, attentiveguests on the lower floor listened in grim approval: Dr. Maltbywas doing himself proud. Not one but all of them knew that MaltbyKNEW. And yet how soothing he was.
Thus afterwards, to his wife, on the way home after a fruitfulsilence, spoke Colonel Berkimer, well known to the Tenderloin:
"When I die, my dear, I want you to be sure to have Maltby in forthe sermon. He's really wonderful."
"You don't mean to say you BELIEVED all that he said," cried hiswife.
"Certainly NOT," he snapped. "That's the point."
Once at the end of a beautifully worded sentence, eulogistic ofthe dead man's character as a son and husband, the tense silenceof the room upstairs was shattered by the utterance of a single,poignant word:
It was so expressive of surprise, of scorn, of contempt, althoughspoken in little more than a whisper, that every one in the roomcaught his or her breath in a sharp little gasp, as if cringingfrom the effect of an unexpected shock to a sensitive nerve.
Each looked at his neighbour and then in a shocked sort of way atevery one else, for no one could quite make out who had utteredthe word, and each wondered if, in a fit of abstraction, he couldhave done it himself. It unmistakably had been the voice of a woman,but whose? Hetty knew, but not by the slightest sign did she betraythe fact that the woman who sat beside her was the one to utterthe brief but scathing estimate of the minister's eulogy.
The hatchet-faced little undertaker stood in the open door againand solemnly bowed his head to Leslie, lifting his dolorous eyebrowsin lieu of the verbal question. Receiving a simple nod in reply,he announced that as soon as the guests had departed he would bepleased to have the family descend to the carriages.
Outside, the shivering, half-frozen multitude edged its way up tothe line of blue-coats and again whispered the names of the departingguests, and every neck was craned in the effort to secure the firstview of the casket, the silk-hatted pall-bearers and the weepingmembers of the family.
"They'll be out with 'im in a minute now," said a hoarse-voiced manwho clung to the ornamental face of the tall gate and passed backthe word, for he could see beyond the stream of guests into thehallway of the house.
"Git down out o' that," commanded a polic
"Aw, I ain't botherin' anybody--"
"Git down, I say!"
Grumbling, the man slunk back, and a woman took his place. This wasbetter for the crowd, as her voice was shriller and she had lesscompunction about making herself heard.
A small boy crept beyond the line and peered, round-eyed, up thecarpeted steps. He received a sharp push from a night-stick andwent blubbering back into the crowd.
And all through the eager, seething mob went sharp-eyed men inplain clothes, searching each face with crafty eyes, looking forthe sign that might betray the woman who had brought all this about.They were men from the central office. Another of their ilk had thefreedom of the house in the guise of an undertaker's assistant. Hewatched the favoured few!
There is a saying that a strange, mysterious force drags themurderer to the scene of his crime, whether he will or no, to lookwith others upon the havoc he has wrought. He has been known to sitbeside the bier of his victim; he has been known to follow him tothe tomb; he has been known to betray himself at the very edge ofthe grave. A grim, fantastic thing is conscience!
At last the crowd gave out a deep, hissing breath and surged forward.They were bearing Challis Wrandall down the steps. The wall ofpolicemen held firm; the morbid hundreds fell back and glared withunblinking eyes at the black thing that slowly crossed the sidewalkand slid noiselessly into the yawning mouth of the hearse. Noman in all that mob uncovered his head, no woman crossed herself.Inwardly they reviled the police who kept them from seeing all thatthey wanted to see. They were being cheated.
Then there was an eager shout from the foremost in the throng, andthe word went singing through the crowd, back to the outer fringe,where men danced like so many jumping-jacks in the effort to seeabove the heads of those in front.
"Here they come!" went the hoarse whisper, like the swish of thewind.
"Stand back, please!"
"That's his mother!" cried a shrill voice, triumphantly,--evengladly. She was the first to give the news.
"Keep back!" growled the police, lifting their clubs.
"Which one is his wife?"
"Has she come out yet?"
"Get out of my way, damn you!"
"Say, if these cops was doing their duty they'd--"
"That's what I say! No wonder they never ketch anybody."
"Say, they don't seem to be takin' it very hard. I thought they'dbe cryin' like--"
"Is that his wife?"
"Poor little thing! Ouch! You big ruffian!"
"Swell business, eh?"
"She won't be sayin' 'Where's my wanderin' boy--'"
"If we had police in this city that could ketch a street car we'd--"
"That's old man Wrandall. I've waited on him dozens o' times."
"Did they have any children?"
Up in the front rank stood a slim little thing with yellow hair andcarmined lips, wrapped in costly furs yet shivering as if chilledto the bone. Four plain clothes men were watching her narrowly. Shewas known to have been one of Challis Wrandall's associates. Whenshe shrank back into the crowd and made her way to the outskirts,hurrying as if pursued by ghosts, two men followed close behind,and kept her in sight for many blocks.
The motors and carriages rolled away, and there was left only thepolicemen and the unsatiated mob. They watched the undertaker'sassistant remove the great bow of black from the door of the house.
By the end of the week the murder of Challis Wrandall was forgottenby all save the police. The inquest was over, the law was baffled,the city was serenely waiting for its next sensation. No one cared.
Leslie Wrandall went down to the steamer to see his sister-in-lawoff for Europe.
"Good-bye, Miss Castleton," he said, as he shook the hand of theslim young Englishwoman at parting. "Take good care of Sara. Sheneeds a friend, a good friend, now. Keep her over there until shehas--forgotten."