Entire PG Edition of The Works of William Dean Howells
William Dean Howells
Part 58 out of 78
"Well, for my part, I'm glad you didn't subscribe to the clippings
bureau. It would have been a disturbing element." She now looked down
at the letters as if she were going to take them up, and he followed the
direction of her eyes. As if reminded of the fact by this, he said:
"Armiger asked me if I had ever heard anything more from that girl."
"Has he?" his mother eagerly asked, transferring her glance from the
letters to her son's face.
"Not a word. I think I silenced her thoroughly."
"Yes," his mother said. "There could have been no good object in
prolonging the affair and letting her confirm herself in the notion that
she was of sufficient importance either to you or to him for you to
continue the correspondence with her. She couldn't learn too distinctly
that she had done--a very wrong thing in trying to play such a trick on
"That was the way I looked at it," Verrian said, but he drew a light
sigh, rather wearily.
"I hope," his mother said, with a recurrent glance at the letters, "that
there is nothing of that silly kind among these."
"No, these are blameless enough, unless they are to be blamed for being
too flattering. That girl seems to be sole of her kind, unless the girl
that she 'got together with' was really like her."
"I don't believe there was any other girl. I never thought there was
more than one."
"There seemed to be two styles and two grades of culture, such as they
"Oh, she could easily imitate two manners. She must have been a clever
girl," Mrs. Verrian said, with that admiration for any sort of cleverness
in her sex which even very good women cannot help feeling.
"Well, perhaps she was punished enough for both the characters she
assumed," Verrian said, with a smile that was not gay.
"Don't think about her!" his mother returned, with a perception of his
mood. "I'm only thankful that she's out of our lives in every sort of
Verrian said nothing, but he reflected with a sort of gloomy amusement
how impossible it was for any woman, even a woman so wide-minded and
high-principled as his mother, to escape the personal view of all things
and all persons which women take. He tacitly noted the fact, as the
novelist notes whatever happens or appears to him, but he let the
occasion drop out of his mind as soon as he could after it had dropped
out of his talk.
The night when the last number of his story came to them in the magazine,
and was already announced as a book, he sat up with his mother
celebrating, as he said, and exulting in the future as well as the past.
They had a little supper, which she cooked for him in a chafing-dish, in
the dining-room of the tiny apartment where they lived together, and she
made some coffee afterwards, to carry off the effect of the Newburg
lobster. Perhaps because there was nothing to carry off the effect of
the coffee, he heard her, through the partition of their rooms, stirring
restlessly after he had gone to bed, and a little later she came to his
door, which she set ajar, to ask, "Are you awake, Philip?"
"You seem to be, mother," he answered, with an amusement at her question
which seemed not to have imparted itself to her when she came in and
stood beside his bed in her dressing-gown.
"You don't think we have judged her too harshly, Philip?"
"Do you, mother?"
"No, I think we couldn't be too severe in a thing like that. She
probably thought you were like some of the other story-writers; she
couldn't feel differences, shades. She pretended to be taken with the
circumstances of your work, but she had to do that if she wanted to fool
you. Well, she has got her come-uppings, as she would probably say."
Verrian replied, thoughtfully, "She didn't strike me as a country person
--at least, in her first letter."
"Then you still think she didn't write both?"
"If she did, she was trying her hand in a personality she had invented."
"Girls are very strange," his mother sighed. "They like excitement,
adventure. It's very dull in those little places. I shouldn't wish you
to think any harm of the poor thing."
"Poor thing? Why this magnanimous compassion, mother?"
"Oh, nothing. But I know how I was myself when I was a girl. I used
almost to die of hunger for something to happen. Can you remember just
what you said in your letter?"
Verrian laughed. "NO, I can't. But I don't believe I said half enough.
You're nervous, mother."
"Yes, I am. But don't you get to worrying. I merely got to thinking how
I should hate to have anybody's unhappiness mixed up with this happiness
of ours. I do so want your pleasure in your success to be pure, not
tainted with the pain of any human creature."
Verrian answered with light cynicism: "It will be tainted with the pain
of the fellows who don't like me, or who haven't succeeded, and they'll
take care to let me share their pain if ever they can. But if you mean
that merry maiden up country, she's probably thinking, if she thinks
about it at all, that she's the luckiest girl in the United States to
have got out of an awful scrape so easily. At the worst, I only had fun
with her in my letter. Probably she sees that she has nothing to grieve
for but her own break."
"No, and you did just as you should have done; and I am glad you don't
feel bitterly about it. You don't, do you?"
"Not the least."
His mother stooped over and kissed him where he lay smiling. "Well,
that's good. After all, it's you I cared for. Now I can say good-
night." But she lingered to tuck him in a little, from the persistence
of the mother habit. "I wish you may never do anything that you will be
"Well, I won't--if it's a good action."
They laughed together, and she left the room, still looking back to see
if there was anything more she could do for him, while he lay smiling,
intelligently for what she was thinking, and patiently for what she was
Even in the time which was then coming and which now is, when successful
authors are almost as many as millionaires, Verrian's book brought him a
pretty celebrity; and this celebrity was in a way specific. It related
to the quality of his work, which was quietly artistic and psychological,
whatever liveliness of incident it uttered on the surface. He belonged
to the good school which is of no fashion and of every time, far both
from actuality and unreality; and his recognition came from people whose
recognition was worth having. With this came the wider notice which was
not worth having, like the notice of Mrs. Westangle, since so well known
to society reporters as a society woman, which could not be called
recognition of him, because it did not involve any knowledge of his book,
not even its title. She did not read any sort of books, and she
assimilated him by a sort of atmospheric sense. She was sure of nothing
but the attention paid him in a certain very goodish house, by people
whom she heard talking in unintelligible but unmistakable praise, when
she said, casually, with a liquid glitter of her sweet, small eyes,
"I wish you would come down to my place, Mr. Verrian. I'm asking a few
young people for Christmas week. Will you?"
"Why, thank you--thank you very much," Verrian said, waiting to hear more
in explanation of the hospitality launched at him. He had never seen
Mrs. Westangle till then, or heard of her, and he had not the least
notion where she lived. But she seemed to have social authority, though
Verrian, in looking round at his hostess and her daughter, who stood
near, letting people take leave, learned nothing from their common smile.
Mrs. Westangle had glided close to him, in the way she had of getting
very near without apparently having advanced by steps, and she stood
gleaming and twittering up at him.
"I shall send you a little note; I won't let you forget," she said. Then
she suddenly shook hands with the ladies of the house and was flashingly
Verrian thought he might ask the daughter of the house, "And if I don't
forget, am I engaged to spend Christmas week with her?"
The girl laughed. "If she doesn't forget, you are. But you'll have a
good time. She'll know how to manage that." Other guests kept coming up
to take leave, and Verrian, who did not want to go just yet, was retired
to the background, where the girl's voice, thrown over her shoulder at
him, reached him in the words, as gay as if they were the best of the
joke, "It's on the Sound."
The inference was that Mrs. Westangle's place was on the Sound; and that
was all Verrian knew about it till he got her little note. Mrs.
Westangle knew how to write in a formless hand, but she did not know how
to spell, and she had thought it best to have a secretary who could write
well and spell correctly. Though, as far as literacy was concerned, she
was such an almost incomparably ignorant woman, she had all the knowledge
the best society wants, or, if she found herself out of any, she went and
bought some; she was able to buy almost anything.
Verrian thanked the secretary for remembering him, in the belief that he
was directly thanking Mrs. Westangle, whose widespread consciousness his
happiness in accepting did not immediately reach; and in the very large
house party, which he duly joined under her roof, he was aware of losing
distinctiveness almost to the point of losing identity. This did not
quite happen on the way to Belford, for, when he went to take his seat in
the drawing-room car, a girl in the chair fronting him put out her hand
with the laugh of Miss Macroyd.
"She did remember you!" she cried out. "How delightful! I don't see how
she ever got onto you"--she made the slang her own--"in the first place,
and she must have worked hard to be sure of you since."
Verrian hung up his coat and put his suit-case behind his chair, the
porter having put it where he could not wheel himself vis-a-vis with the
girl. "She took all the time there was," he answered. "I got my
invitation only the day before yesterday, and if I had been in more
demand, or had a worse conscience--"
"Oh, do say worse conscience! It's so much more interesting," the girl
"--I shouldn't have the pleasure of going to Seasands with you now," he
concluded, and she gave her laugh. "Do I understand that simply my
growing fame wouldn't have prevailed with her?"
Anything seemed to make Miss Macroyd laugh. "She couldn't have cared
about that, and she wouldn't have known. You may be sure that it was a
social question with her after the personal question was settled. She
must have liked your looks!" Again Miss Macroyd laughed.
"On that side I'm invulnerable. It's only a literary vanity to be
soothed or to be wounded that I have," Verrian said.
"Oh, there wouldn't be anything personal in her liking your looks. It
would be merely deciding that personally you would do, "Miss Macroyd
laughed, as always, and Verrian put on a mock seriousness in asking:
"Then I needn't be serious if there should happen to be anything so
Westangular as a Mr. Westangle?"
"Not the least in the world."
"But there is something?"
"Oh, I believe so. But not probably at Seasands."
"Is that her house?"
"Yes. Every other name had been used, and she couldn't say Soundsands."
"Then where would the Mr. Westangular part more probably be found?"
"Oh, in Montana or Mesopotamia, or any of those places. Don't you know
about him? How ignorant literary people can be! Why, he was the
Amalgamated Clothespin. You haven't heard of that?"
She went on to tell him, with gay digressions, about the invention which
enabled Westangle to buy up the other clothes-pins and merge them in his
own--to become a commercial octopus, clutching the throats of other
clothespin inventors in the tentacles of the Westangle pin. "But he
isn't in clothespins now. He's in mines, and banks, and steamboats, and
railroads, and I don't know what all; and Mrs. Westangle, the second of
her name, never was in clothespins."
Miss Macroyd laughed all through her talk, and she was in a final burst
of laughing when the train slowed into Stamford. There a girl came into
the car trailing her skirts with a sort of vivid debility and overturning
some minor pieces of hand-baggage which her draperies swept out of their
shelter beside the chairs. She had to take one of the seats which back
against the wall of the state-room, where she must face the whole length
of the car. She sat weakly fallen back in the chair and motionless, as
if almost unconscious; but after the train had begun to stir she started
up, and with a quick flinging of her veil aside turned to look out of the
window. In the flying instant Verrian saw a colorless face with pinched
and sunken eyes under a worn-looking forehead, and a withered mouth whose
lips parted feebly.
On her part, Miss Macroyd had doubtless already noted that the girl was,
with no show of expensiveness, authoritatively well gowned and personally
hatted. She stared at her, and said, "What a very hunted and escaping
"She does look rather-fugitive," Verrian agreed, staring too.
"One might almost fancy--an asylum."
"Yes, or a hospital."
They continued both to stare at her, helpless for what ever different
reasons to take their eyes away, and they were still interested in her
when they heard her asking the conductor, "Must I change and take another
train before we get to Belford? My friends thought--"
"No, this train stops at Southfield," the conductor answered, absently
biting several holes into her drawing-room ticket.
"Can she be one of us?" Miss Macroyd demanded, in a dramatic whisper.
"She might be anything," Verrian returned, trying instantly, with a whir
of his inventive machinery, to phrase her. He made a sort of luxurious
failure of it, and rested content with her face, which showed itself now
in profile and now fronted him in full, and now was restless and now
subsided in a look of delicate exhaustion. He would have said, if he
would have said anything absolute, that she was a person who had
something on her mind; at instants she had that hunted air, passing at
other instants into that air of escape. He discussed these appearances
with Miss Macroyd, but found her too frankly disputatious; and she
laughed too much and too loud.
At Southfield, where they all descended, Miss Macroyd promptly possessed
herself of a groom, who came forward tentatively, touching his hat.
"Miss Macroyd ?" she suggested.
"Yes, miss," the man said, and led the way round the station to the
victoria which, when Miss Macroyd's maid had mounted to the place beside
her, had no room; for any one else.
Verrian accounted for her activity upon the theory of her quite
justifiable wish not to arrive at Seasands with a young man whom she
might then have the effect of having voluntarily come all the way with;
and after one or two circuits of the station it was apparent to him that
he was not to have been sent for from Mrs. Westangle's, but to have been
left to the chances of the local drivers and their vehicles. These were
reduced to a single carryall and a frowsy horse whose rough winter coat
recalled the aspect of his species in the period following the glacial
epoch. The mud, as of a world-thaw, encrusted the wheels and curtains of
Verrian seized upon it and then went into the waiting-room, where he had
left his suit-case. He found the stranger there in parley with the young
woman in the ticket-office about a conveyance to Mrs. Westangle's. It
proved that he had secured not only the only thing of the sort, but the
only present hope of any other, and in the hard case he could not
hesitate with distress so interesting. It would have been brutal to
drive off and leave that girl there, and it would have been a vulgar
flourish to put the entire vehicle at her service. Besides, and perhaps
above all, Verrian had no idea of depriving himself of such a chance as
heaven seemed to offer him.
He advanced with the delicacy of the highest-bred hero he could imagine,
and said, "I am going to Mrs. Westangle's, and I'm afraid I've got the
only conveyance--such as it is. If you would let me offer you half of
it? Mr. Verrian," he added, at the light of acceptance instantly
kindling in her face, which flushed thinly, as with an afterglow of
"Why, thank you; I'm afraid I must, Mr. Merriam," and Verrian was aware
of being vexed at her failure to catch his name; the name of Verrian
ought to have been unmistakable. "The young lady in the office says
there won't be another, and I'm expected promptly." She added, with a
little tremor of the lip, "I don't understand why Mrs. Westangle--"
But then she stopped.
Verrian interpreted for her: "The sea-horses must have given out at
Seasands. Or probably there's some mistake," and he reflected bitterly
upon the selfishness of Miss Macroyd in grabbing that victoria for
herself and her maid, not considering that she could not know, and has no
business to ask, whether this girl was going to Mrs. Westangle's, too.
"Have you a check?" he asked. "I think our driver could find room for
something besides my valise. Or I could have it come--"
"Not at all," the girl said. "I sent my trunk ahead by express."
A frowsy man, to match the frowsy horse, looked in impatiently. "Any
"No," Verrian answered, and he led the way out after the vanishing
driver. "Our chariot is back here in hiding, Miss--"
"Shirley," she said, and trailed before him through the door he opened.
He felt that he did not do it as a man of the world would have done it,
and in putting her into the ramshackle carryall he knew that he had not
the grace of the sort of man who does nothing else. But Miss Shirley
seemed to have grace enough, of a feeble and broken sort, for both, and
he resolved to supply his own lack with sincerity. He therefore set his
jaw firmly and made its upper angles jut sharply through his clean-shaven
cheeks. It was well that Miss Shirley had some beauty to spare, too, for
Verrian had scarcely enough for himself. Such distinction as he had was
from a sort of intellectual tenseness which showed rather in the gaunt
forms of his face than in the gray eyes, heavily lashed above and below,
and looking serious but dull with their rank, black brows. He was
chewing a cud of bitterness in the accusal he made himself of having
forced Miss Shirley to give her name; but with that interesting
personality at his side, under the same tattered and ill-scented Japanese
goat-skin, he could not refuse to be glad, with all his self-blame.
"I'm afraid it's rather a long drive-for you, Miss Shirley," he ventured,
with a glance at her face, which looked very little under her hat. "The
driver says it's five miles round through the marshes."
"Oh, I shall not mind," she said, courageously, if not cheerfully, and he
did not feel authorized further to recognize the fact that she was an
invalid, or at best a convalescent.
"These wintry tree-forms are fine, though," he found himself obliged to
conclude his apology, rather irrelevantly, as the wheels of the rattling,
and tilting carry all crunched the surface of the road in the succession
of jerks responding to the alternate walk and gallop of the horse.
"Yes, they are," Miss Shirley answered, looking around with a certain
surprise, as if seeing them now for the first time. "So much variety of
color; and that burnished look that some of them have." The trees, far
and near, were giving their tones and lustres in the low December sun.
"Yes," he said, "it's decidedly more refined than the autumnal coloring
we brag of."
"It is," she approved, as with novel conviction. "The landscape is
really beautiful. So nice and flat," she added.
He took her intention, and he said, as he craned his neck out of the
carryall to include the nearer roadside stretches, with their low bushes
lifting into remoter trees, "It's restful in a way that neither the
mountains nor the sea, quite manage."
"Oh yes," she sighed, with a kind of weariness which explained itself in
what she added: "It's the kind of thing you'd like to have keep on and
on." She seemed to say that more to herself than to him, and his eyes
questioned her. She smiled slightly in explaining: "I suppose I find it
all the more beautiful because this is my first real look into the world
after six months indoors."
"Oh!" he said, and there was no doubt a prompting in his tone.
She smiled still. "Sick people are terribly, egotistical, and I suppose
it's my conceit of having been the centre of the universe so lately that
makes me mention it." And here she laughed a little at herself, showing
a charming little peculiarity in the catch of her upper lip on her teeth.
"But this is divine--this air and this sight." She put her head out of
her side of the carryall, and drank them in with her lungs and eyes.
When she leaned back again on the seat she said, "I can't get enough of
"But isn't this old rattletrap rather too rough for you?" he asked.
"Oh no," she said, visiting him with a furtive turn of her eyes. "It's
quite ideally what invalids in easy circumstances are advised to take
"Yes, it's certainly carriage exercise," Verrian admitted in the same
spirit, if it was a drolling spirit. He could not help being amused by
the situation in which they had been brought together, through the
vigorous promptitude of Miss Macroyd in making the victoria her own, and
the easy indifference of Mrs. Westangle as to how they should get to her
house. If he had been alone he might have felt the indifference as a
slight, but as it was he felt it rather a favor. If Miss Shirley was
feeling it a slight, she was too secret or too sweet to let it be known,
and he thought that was nice of her. Still, he believed he might
recognize the fact without deepening a possible hurt of hers, and he
added, with no apparent relevance, "If Mrs. Westangle was not looking for
us on this train, she will find that it is the unexpected which happens."
"We are certainly going to happen," the girl said, with an acceptance of
the plural which deepened the intimacy of the situation, and which was
not displeasing to Verrian when she added, "If our friend's vehicle holds
out." Then she turned her face full upon him, with what affected him as
austere resolution, in continuing, "But I can't let you suppose that
you're conveying a society person, or something of that sort, to Mrs.
Westangle's." His own face expressed his mystification, and she
concluded, "I'm simply going there to begin my work."
He smiled provisionally in temporizing with the riddle. "You women are
wonderful, nowadays, for the work you do."
"Oh, but," she protested, nervously, anxiously, "it isn't good work that
I'm going to do--I understand what you mean--it's work for a living.
I've no business to be arriving with an invited guest, but it seemed to
be a question of arriving or not at the time when I was due."
Verrian stared at her now from a visage that was an entire blank, though
behind it conjecture was busy, and he was asking himself whether his
companion was some new kind of hair-dresser, or uncommonly cultivated
manicure, or a nursery governess obeying a hurry call to take a place in
Mrs. Westangle's household, or some sort of amateur housekeeper arriving
to supplant a professional. But he said nothing.
Miss Shirley said, with a distress which was genuine, though he perceived
a trace of amusement in it, too, "I see that I will have to go on."
"Oh, do!" he made out to utter.
"I am going to Mrs. Westangle's as a sort of mistress of the revels. The
business is so new that it hasn't got its name yet, but if I fail it
won't need any. I invented it on a hint I got from a girl who undertakes
the floral decorations for parties. I didn't see why some one shouldn't
furnish suggestions for amusements, as well as flowers. I was always
rather lucky at that in my own fam--at my father's--" She pulled herself
sharply up, as if danger lay that way. "I got an introduction to Mrs.
Westangle, and she's to let me try. I am going to her simply as part of
the catering, and I'm not to have any recognition in the hospitalities.
So it wasn't necessary for her to send for me at the station, except as a
means of having me on the ground in good season. I have to thank you for
that, and--I thank you." She ended in a sigh.
"It's very interesting," Verrian said, and he hoped he was not saying it
in any ignoble way.
He was very presently to learn. Round a turn of the road there came a
lively clacking of horses' shoes on the hard track, with the muted rumble
of rubber-tired wheels, and Mrs. Westangle's victoria dashed into view.
The coachman had made a signal to Verrian's driver, and the vehicles
stopped side by side. The footman instantly came to the door of the
carryall, touching his hat to Verrian.
"Going to Mrs. Westangle's, sir?"
"Mrs. Westangle's carriage. Going to the station for you, sir."
"Miss Shirley," Verrian said, "will you change?"
"Oh no," she answered, quickly, "it's better for me to go on as I am.
But the carriage was sent for you. You must--"
Verrian interrupted to ask the footman, "How far is it yet to Mrs.
"About a mile, sir."
"I think I won't change for such a short distance. I'll keep on as I
am," Verrian said, and he let the goatskin, which he had half lifted to
free Miss Shirley for dismounting, fall back again. "Go ahead, driver."
She had been making several gasping efforts at speech, accompanied with
entreating and protesting glances at Verrian in the course of his brief
colloquy with the footman. Now, as the carryall lurched forward again,
and the victoria wheeled and passed them on its way back, she caught her
handkerchief to her face, and to Verrian's dismay sobbed into it. He let
her cry, as he must, in the distressful silence which he could not be the
first to break. Besides, he did not know how she was taking it all till
she suddenly with threw her handkerchief and pulled down her veil. Then
she spoke three heart-broken words, "How could you!" and he divined that
he must have done wrong.
"What ought I to have done?" he asked, with sullen humility.
"You ought to have taken the victoria."
"How could I?"
"You ought to have done it."
"I think you ought to have done it yourself, Miss Shirley," Verrian said,
feeling like the worm that turns. He added, less resentfully, "We ought
both to have taken it."
"No, Mrs. Westangle might have felt, very properly, that it was
presumptuous in me, whether I came alone in it or with you. Now we shall
arrive together in this thing, and she will be mortified for you and
vexed with me. She will blame me for it, and she will be right, for it
would have been very well for me to drive up in a shabby station
carryall; but an invited guest--"
" No, indeed, she shall not blame you, Miss Shirley. I will make a point
of taking the whole responsibility. I will tell her--"
"Mr. Merriam!" she cried, in anguish. "Will you please do nothing of the
kind? Do you want to make bad worse? Leave the explaining altogether to
me, please. Will you promise that?"
"I will promise that--or anything--if you insist," Verrian sulked.
She instantly relented a little. "You mustn't think me unreasonable.
But I was determined to carry my undertaking through on business
principles, and you have spoiled my chance--I know you meant it kindly
or, if not spoiled, made it more difficult. Don't think me ungrateful.
"My name isn't Merriam," he resented, at last, a misnomer which had
annoyed him from the first.
"Oh, I am so glad! Don't tell me what it is!" she said, giving a laugh
which had to go on a little before he recognized the hysterical quality
in it. When she could check it she explained: "Now we are not even
acquainted, and I can thank a stranger for the kindness you have shown
me. I am truly grateful. Will you do me another favor?"
"Yes," Verrian assented; but he thought he had a right to ask, as though
he had not promised, "What is it?"
"Not to speak of me to Mrs. Westangle unless she speaks of me first."
"That's simple. I don't know that I should have any right to speak of
"Oh yes, you would. She will expect you, perhaps, to laugh about the
little adventure, and I would rather she began the laughing you have been
"All right. But wouldn't my silence make it rather more awkward?"
"I will take care of the awkwardness, thank you. And you promise?"
"Yes, I promise."
"That is very good of you." She put her hand impulsively across the
goat-skin, and gave his, with which he took it in some surprise, a quick
clasp. Then they were both silent, and they got out of the carryall
under Mrs. Westangle's porte-cochere without having exchanged another
word. Miss Shirley did not bow to him or look at him in parting.
Verrian kept seeing before his inner eyes the thin face of the girl,
dimmed rather than lighted with her sick yes. When she should be
stronger, there might be a pale flush in it, like sunset on snow, but
Verrian had to imagine that. He did not find it difficult to imagine
many things about the girl, whom, in another mood, a more judicial mood,
he might have accused of provoking him to imagine them. As it was, he
could not help noting to that second self which we all have about us,
that her confidences, such as they were, had perhaps been too voluntary;
certainly they had not been quite obligatory, and they could not be quite
accounted for, except upon the theory of nerves not yet perfectly under
her control. To be sure, girls said all sorts of things to one,
ignorantly and innocently; but she did not seem the kind of girl who, in
different circumstances, would have said anything that she did not choose
or that she did not mean to say. She had been surprisingly frank, and
yet, at heart, Verrian would have thought she was a very reticent person
or a secret person--that is, mentally frank and sentimentally secret;
possibly she was like most women in that. What he was sure of was that
the visual impression of her which he had received must have been very
vivid to last so long in his consciousness; all through his preparations
for going down to afternoon tea her face remained subjectively before
him, and when he went down and found himself part of a laughing and
chattering company in the library he still found it, in his inner sense,
here, there, and yonder.
He was aware of suffering a little disappointment in Mrs. Westangle's
entire failure to mention Miss Shirley, though he was aware that his
disappointment was altogether unreasonable, and he more reasonably
decided that if she knew anything of his arrival, or the form of it, she
had too much of the making of a grande dame to be recognizant of it. He
did not know from her whether she had meant to send for him at the
station or not, or whether she had sent her carriage back for him when he
did not arrive in it at first. Nothing was left in her manner of such
slight specialization as she had thrown into it when, at the Macroyds',
she asked him down to her house party; she seemed, if there were any
difference, to have acquired an additional ignorance of who and what he
was, though she twittered and flittered up close to his elbow, after his
impersonal welcome, and asked him if she might introduce him to the young
lady who was pouring tea for her, and who, after the brief drama
necessary for possessing him of a cup of it, appeared to have no more use
for him than Mrs. Westangle herself had. There were more young men than
young women in the room, but he imagined the usual superabundance of
girlhood temporarily absent for repair of the fatigues of the journey.
Every girl in the room had at least one man talking to her, and the girl
who was pouring tea had one on each side of her and was trying to fix
them both with an eye lifted towards each, while she struggled to keep
her united gaze watchfully upon the tea-urn and those who came up with
cups to be filled or refilled.
Verrian thought his fellow-guests were all amiable enough looking, though
he made his reflection that they did not look, any of them, as if they
would set the Sound on fire; and again he missed the companion of his
After he had got his cup of tea, he stood sipping it with a homeless air
which he tried to conceal, and cast a furtive eye round the room till it
rested upon the laughing face of Miss Macroyd. A young man was taking
away her teacup, and Verrian at once went up and seized his place.
"How did you get here?" she asked, rather shamelessly, since she had kept
him from coming in the victoria, but amusingly, since she seemed to see
it as a joke, if she saw it at all.
"I walked," he answered.
"No, not truly."
"But, truly, how did you? Because I sent the carriage back for you."
"That was very thoughtful of you. But I found a delightful public
vehicle behind the station, and I came in that. I'm so glad to know that
it wasn't Mrs. Westangle who had the trouble of sending the carriage back
Miss Macroyd laughed and laughed at his resentment. "But surely you met
it on the way? I gave the man a description of you. Didn't he stop for
"Oh yes, but I was too proud to change by that time. Or perhaps I hated
Miss Macroyd laughed the more; then she purposely darkened her
countenance so as to suit it to her lugubrious whisper, "How did she get
"The mysterious fugitive. Wasn't she coming here, after all?"
"After all your trouble in supposing so?" Verrian reflected a moment,
and then he said, deliberately, "I don't know."
Miss Macroyd was not going to let him off like that. "You don't know how
she came, or you don't know whether she was coming?"
"I didn't say."
Her laugh resounded again. "Now you are trying to be wicked, and that is
very wrong for a novelist."
"But what object could I have in concealing the fact from you, Miss
Macroyd?" he entreated, with mock earnestness.
"That is what I want to find out."
"What are you two laughing so about?" the voice of Mrs. Westangle
twittered at Verrian's elbow, and, looking down, he found her almost
touching it. She had a very long, narrow neck, and, since it was long
and narrow, she had the good sense not to palliate the fact or try to
dress the effect of it out of sight. She took her neck in both hands, as
it were, and put it more on show, so that you had really to like it. Now
it lifted her face, though she was not a tall person, well towards the
level of his; to be sure, he was himself only of the middle height of
men, though an aquiline profile helped him up.
He stirred the tea which he had ceased to drink, and said, "I wasn't
'laughing so about,' Mrs. Westangle. It was Miss Macroyd."
"And I was laughing so about a mysterious stranger that came up on the
train with us and got out at your station."
"And I was trying to make out what was so funny in a mysterious stranger,
or even in her getting out at your station."
Mrs. Westangle was not interested in the case, or else she failed to
seize the joke. At any rate, she turned from them without further
question and went away to another part of the room, where she semi-
attached herself in like manner to another couple, and again left it for
still another. This was possibly her idea of looking after her guests;
but when she had looked after them a little longer in that way she left
the room and let them look after themselves till dinner.
"Come, Mr. Verrian," Miss Macroyd resumed, "what is the secret? I'll
never tell if you tell me."
"You won't if I don't."
"Now you are becoming merely trivial. You are ceasing even to be
provoking." Miss Macroyd, in token of her displeasure, laughed no
"Am I?" he questioned; thoughtfully. "Well, then, I am tempted to act
"Oh, do act upon impulse for once," she urged. I'm sure you'll enjoy
"Do you mean that I'm never impulsive?"
"I don't think you look it."
"If you had seen me an hour ago you would have said I was very impulsive.
I think I may have exhausted myself in that direction, however. I feel
the impulse failing me now."
His impulse really had failed him. It had been to tell Miss Macroyd
about his adventure and frankly trust her with it. He had liked her at
several former meetings rather increasingly, because she had seemed open
and honest beyond the most of women, but her piggish behavior at the
station had been rather too open and honest, and the sense of this now
opportunely intervened between him and the folly he was about to commit.
Besides, he had no right to give Miss Shirley's part in his adventure
away, and, since the affair was more vitally hers than his, to take it at
all out of her hands. The early-falling dusk had favored an unnoticed
advent for them, and there were other chances that had helped keep
unknown their arrival together at Mrs. Westangle's in that squalid
carryall, such as Miss Shirley's having managed instantly to slip indoors
before the man came out for Verrian's suit-case, and of her having got to
her own appointed place long before there was any descent of the company
to the afternoon tea.
It was not for him now to undo all that and begin the laughing at the
affair, which she had pathetically intimated that she would rather some
one else should begin. He recoiled from his imprudence with a shock, but
he had the pleasure of having mystified Miss Macroyd. He felt dismissal
in the roving eye which she cast from him round the room, and he
willingly let another young man replace him at her side.
Yet he was not altogether satisfied. A certain meaner self that there
was in him was not pleased with his relegation even merely in his own
consciousness to the championship of a girl who was going to make her
living in a sort of menial way. It had better be owned for him that, in
his visions of literary glory, he had figured in social triumphs which,
though vague, were resplendent with the glitter of smart circles. He had
been so ignorant of such circles as to suppose they would have some use
for him as a brilliant young author; and though he was outwearing this
illusion, he still would not have liked a girl like Julia Macroyd, whose
family, if not smart, was at least chic, to know that he had come to the
house with a professional mistress of the revels, until Miss Shirley
should have approved herself chic, too. The notion of such an employment
as hers was in itself chic, but the girl was merely a paid part of the
entertainment, as yet, and had not risen above the hireling status. If
she had sunk to that level from a higher rank it would be all right, but
there was no evidence that she had ever been smart. Verrian would,
therefore, rather not be mixed up with her--at any rate, in the
imagination of a girl like Julia Macroyd; and as he left her side he drew
a long breath of relief and went and put down his teacup where he had got
By this time the girl who was "pouring" had exhausted one of the two
original guards on whom she had been dividing her vision, and Verrian
made a pretence, which she favored, that he had come up to push the man
away. The man gracefully submitted to be dislodged, and Verrian remained
in the enjoyment of one of the girl's distorted eyes till, yet another
man coming up, she abruptly got rid of Verrian by presenting him to yet
another girl. In such manoeuvres the hour of afternoon tea will pass;
and the time really wore on till it was time to dress for dinner.
By the time that the guests came down to dinner they were all able to
participate in the exchange of the discovery which each had made, that it
was snowing outdoors, and they kept this going till one girl had the
good-luck to say, "I don't see anything so astonishing in that at this
time of year. Now, if it was snowing indoors, it would be different."
This relieved the tension in a general laugh, and a young man tried to
contribute further to the gayety by declaring that it would not be
surprising to have it snow in-doors. He had once seen the thing done in
a crowded hall, one night, when somebody put up a window, and the
freezing current of air congealed the respiration of the crowd, which
came down in a light fall of snow-flakes. He owned that it was in
"Oh, that excuses it, then," Miss Macroyd said. But she lost the laugh
which was her due in the rush which some of the others made to open a
window and see whether it could be made to snow in-doors there.
"Oh, it isn't crowded enough here," the young man explained who had
alleged the scientific marvel.
"And it isn't Boston," Miss Macroyd tried again on the same string, and
this time she got her laugh.
The girl who had first spoken remained, at the risk of pneumonia, with
her arm prettily lifted against the open sash, for a moment peering out,
and then reported, in dashing it down with a shiver, "It seems to be a
very soft snow."
"Then it will be rain by morning," another predicted, and the girl tried
hard to think of something to say in support of the hit she had made
already. But she could not, and was silent almost through the whole
first course at dinner.
In spite of its being a soft snow, it continued to fall as snow and not
as rain. It lent the charm of stormy cold without to the brightness and
warmth within. Much later, when between waltzes some of the dancers went
out on the verandas for a breath of air, they came back reporting that
the wind was rising and the snow was drifting.
Upon the whole, the snow was a great success, and her guests
congratulated Mrs. Westangle on having thought to have it. The
felicitations included recognition of the originality of her whole
scheme. She had downed the hoary superstition that people had too much
of a good time on Christmas to want any good time at all in the week
following; and in acting upon the well-known fact that you never wanted a
holiday so much as the day after you had one, she had made a movement of
the highest social importance. These were the ideas which Verrian and
the young man of the in-doors snow-storm urged upon her; his name was
Bushwick, and he and Verrian found that they were very good-fellows after
they had rather supposed the contrary.
Mrs. Westangle received their ideas with the twittering reticence that
deceived so many people when they supposed she knew what they were
At breakfast, where the guests were reasonably punctual, they were all
able to observe, in the rapid succession in which they descended from
their rooms, that it had stopped snowing and the sun was shining
"There isn't enough for sleighing," Mrs. Westangle proclaimed from the
head of the table in her high twitter, "and there isn't any coasting here
in this flat country for miles."
"Then what are we going to do with it?" one of the young ladies
"That's what I was going to suggest," Mrs. Westangle replied. She
pronounced it 'sujjest', but no one felt that it mattered. "And, of
course," she continued, "you needn't any of you do it if you don't like."
"We'll all do it, Mrs. Westangle," Bushwick said. "We are unanimous in
"Perhaps you'll think it rather funny--odd," she said.
"The odder the better, I think," Verrian ventured, and another man
declared that nothing Mrs. Westangle would do was odd, though everything
"Well, there is such a thing as being too original," she returned. Then
she turned her head aside and looked down at something beside her plate
and said, without lifting her eyes, "You know that in the Middle Ages
there used to be flower-fights among the young nobility in Italy. The
women held a tower, and the men attacked it with roses and flowers
"Why, is this a speech?" Miss Macroyd interrupted.
"A speech from the throne, yes," Bushwick solemnly corrected her. "And
she's got it written down, like a queen--haven't you, Mrs. Westangle?"
"Yes, I thought it would be more respectful."
"She coming out," Bushwick said to Verrian across the table.
"And if I got mixed up I could go back and straighten it," the hostess
declared, with a good--humored candor that took the general fancy, "and
you could understand without so much explaining. We haven't got flowers
enough at this season," she went on, looking down again at the paper
beside her plate, "but we happen to have plenty of snowballs, and the
notion is to have the women occupy a snow tower and the men attack them
"Why," Bushwick said, "this is the snow-fort business of our boyhood!
Let's go out and fortify the ladies at once." He appealed to Verrian and
made a feint of pushing his chair back. "May we use water-soaked
snowballs, or must they all be soft and harmless?" he asked of Mrs.
Westangle, who was now the centre of a storm of applause and question
from the whole table.
She kept her head and referred again to her paper. "The missiles of the
assailants are to be very soft snowballs, hardly more than mere clots, so
that nobody can be hurt in the assault, but the defenders may repel the
assailants with harder snowballs."
"Oh," Miss Macroyd protested, "this is consulting the weakness of our
"In the fury of the onset we'll forget it," Verrian reassured her.
"Do you think you really will, Mr. Verrian?" she asked. "What is all our
athletic training to go for if you do?"
Mrs. Westangle read on:
"The terms of capitulation can be arranged on the ground, whether the
castle is carried or the assailing party are made prisoners by its
"Hopeless captivity in either case!" Bushwick lamented.
"Isn't it rather academic?" Miss Macroyd asked of Verrian, in a low
"I'm afraid, rather," he owned.
"But why are you so serious?" she pursued.
"Am I serious?" he retorted, with a trace of exasperation; and she
Their parley was quite lost in the clamor which raged up and down the
table till Mrs. Westangle ended it by saying, "There's no obligation on
any one to take part in the hostilities. There won't be any
conscription; it's a free fight that will be open to everybody." She
folded the paper she had been reading from and put it in her lap, in
default of a pocket. She went on impromptu:
"You needn't trouble about building the fort, Mr. Bushwick. I've had the
farmer and his men working at the castle since daybreak, and the ladies
will find it all ready for them, when they're ready to defend it, down in
the meadow beyond the edge of the birchlot. The battle won't begin till
She rose, and the clamor rose again with her, and her guests crushed
about her, demanding to be allowed at least to go and look at the castle
One of the men's voices asked, "May I be one of the defenders, Mrs.
Westangle? I want to be on the winning side, sure."
"Oh, is this going to be a circus chariot-race?" another lamented.
"No, indeed," a girl cried, "it's to be the real thing."
It fell to Verrian, in the assortment of couples in which Mrs.
Westangle's guests sallied out to view the proposed scene of action, to
find himself, not too willingly, at Miss Macroyd's side. In his heart
and in his mind he was defending the amusement which he instantly divined
as no invention of Mrs. Westangle's, and both his heart and his mind
misgave him about this first essay of Miss Shirley in her new enterprise.
It was, as Miss Macroyd had suggested, academic, and at the same time it
had a danger in it of being tomboyish. Golf, tennis, riding, boating,
swimming--all the vigorous sports in which women now excel--were boldly
athletic, and yet you could not feel quite that they were tomboyish. Was
it because the bent of Miss Shirley was so academic that she was periling
upon tomboyishness without knowing it in this primal inspiration of hers?
Inwardly he resented the word academic, although outwardly he had
assented to it when Miss Macroyd proposed it. To be academic would be
even more fatal to Miss Shirley's ambition than to be tomboyish, and he
thought with pathos of that touch about the Italian nobility in the
Middle Ages, and how little it could have moved the tough fancies of that
crowd of well-groomed young people at the breakfast-table when Mrs.
Westangle brought it out with her ignorant acceptance of it as a social
force. After all, Miss Macroyd was about the only one who could have
felt it in the way it was meant, and she had chosen to smile at it. He
wondered if possibly she could feel the secondary pathos of it as he did.
But to make talk with her he merely asked:
"Do you intend to take part in the fray?"
"Not unless I can be one of the reserve corps that won't need to be
brought up till it's all over. I've no idea of getting my hair down."
"Ah," he sighed, "you think it's going to be rude:"
"That is one of the chances. But you seem to be suffering about it, Mr.
Verrian!" she said, and, of course, she laughed.
"Who? I?" he returned, in the temptation to deny it. But he resisted.
"I always suffer when there's anything silly happening, as if I were
doing it myself. Don't you?"
"No, thank you, I believe not. But perhaps you are doing this? One
can't suppose Mrs. Westangle imagined it."
"No, I can't plead guilty. But why isn't it predicable of Mrs.
"You mustn't ask too much of me, Mr. Verrian. Somehow, I won't say how,
it's been imagined for her. She's heard of its being done somewhere. It
can't be supposed she's read of it, anywhere."
"No, I dare say not."
Miss Macroyd came out with her laugh. "I should like to know what she
makes of you, Mr. Verrian, when she is alone with herself. She must have
looked you up and authenticated you in her own way, but it would be as
far from your way as--well, say--the Milky Way."
"You don't think she asked me because she met me at your house?"
"No, that wouldn't be enough, from her point of view. She means to go
much further than we've ever got."
"Then a year from now she wouldn't ask me?"
"It depends upon who asks you in the mean time."
"You might get to be a fad, and then she would feel that she would have to
"You're not flattering me?"
"Do you find it flattering?"
"It isn't exactly my idea of the reward I've been working for. What
shall I do to be a fad?"
"Well, rather degrading stunts, if you mean in the smart set. Jump about
on all fours and pick up a woman's umbrella with your teeth, and bark.
Anything else would be easier for you among chic people, where your
brilliancy would count."
"Brilliancy? Oh, thank you! Go on."
"Now, a girl--if you were a girl--"
"Oh yes, if I were a girl! That will be so much more interesting."
"A girl," Miss Macroyd continued, "might do it by posing effectively for
amateur photography. Or doing something original in dramatics or
pantomimics or recitation--but very original, because chic people are
critical. Or if she had a gift for getting up things that would show
other girls off; or suggesting amusements; but that would be rather in
the line of swell people, who are not good at getting up things and are
glad of help."
"I see, I see!" Verrian said, eagerly. But he walked along looking down
at the snow, and not meeting the laughing glance that Miss Macroyd cast
at his face. "Well?"
"I believe that's all," she said, sharply. She added, less sharply:
"She couldn't afford to fail, though, at any point. The fad that fails
is extinguished forever. Will these simple facts do for fiction? Or is
it for somebody in real life you're asking, Mr. Verrian?"
"Oh, for fiction. And thank you very much. Oh, that's rather pretty!"
They had come into the meadow where the snow battle was to be, and on its
slope, against the dark weft of the young birch-trees, there was a mimic
castle outlined in the masonry of white blocks quarried from the drifts
and built up in courses like rough blocks of marble. A decoration of
green from the pines that mixed with the birches had been suggested
rather than executed, and was perhaps the more effective for its
"Yes, it's really beautiful," Miss Macroyd owned, and though she did not
join her cries to those of the other girls, who stood scattered about
admiring it, and laughing and chattering with the men whose applause,
of course, took the jocose form, there was no doubt but she admired it.
"What I can't understand is how Mrs. Westangle got the notion of this.
There's the soprano note in it, and some woman must have given it to
"Not contralto, possibly?" Verrian asked.
"I insist upon the soprano," she said.
But he did not notice what she said. His eyes were following a figure
which seemed to be escaping up through the birches behind the snow castle
and ploughing its way through the drifts; in front of the structure they
had been levelled to make an easier battle-field. He knew that it was
Miss Shirley, and he inferred that she had been in the castle directing
the farm--hands building it, and now, being caught by the premature
arrival of the contesting forces, had fled before them and left her
subordinates to finish the work. He felt, with a throe of helpless
sympathy, that she was undertaking too much. It was hazardous enough to
attempt the practice of her novel profession under the best of
circumstances, but to keep herself in abeyance so far as not to be known
at all in it, and, at the same time, to give way to her interest in it to
the extent of coming out, with her infirmly established health, into that
wintry weather, and superintending the preparations for the first folly
she had planned, was a risk altogether too great for her.
Who in the world, "Miss Macroyd suddenly demanded, "is the person
floundering about in the birch woods?"
"Perhaps the soprano," Verrian returned, hardily.
Bushwick detached himself from a group of girls near by and intercepted
any response from Miss Macroyd to Verrian by calling to her before he
came up, "Are you going to be one of the enemy, Miss Macroyd?"
"No, I think I will be neutral." She added, "Is there going to be any
such thing as an umpire?"
"We hadn't thought of that. There could be. The office could be
created; but, you know, it's the post of danger."
Verrian joined the group that Bushwick has left. He found a great
scepticism as to the combat, mixed with some admiration for the castle,
and he set himself to contest the prevalent feeling. What was the matter
with a snow-fight? he demanded. It would be great fun. Decidedly he was
going in for it. He revived the drooping sentiment in its favor, and
then, flown with his success, he went from group to group and couple to
couple, and animated all with his zeal, which came, he hardly knew
whence; what he pretended to the others was that they were rather bound
not to let Mrs. Westangle's scheme fall through. Their doubts vanished
before him, and the terms of the battle were quickly arranged. He said
he had read of one of those mediaeval flower-fights, and he could tell
them how that was done. Where it would not fit into the snow-fight, they
could trust to inspiration; every real battle was the effect of
He came out, and some of the young women and most of the young men, who
had dimly known of him as a sort of celebrity, and suspected him of being
a prig, were reconciled, and accepted him for a nice fellow, and became
of his opinion as to the details of the amusement before them.
It was not very Homeric, when it came off, or very mediaeval, but it was
really lots of fun, or far more fun than one would have thought. The
storming of the castle was very sincere, and the fortress was honestly
defended. Miss Macroyd was made umpire, as she wished, and provided with
a large snowball to sit on at a safe distance; as she was chosen by the
men, the girls wanted to have an umpire of their own, who would be really
fair, and they voted Verrian into the office. But he refused, partly
because he did not care about being paired off with Miss Macroyd so
conspicuously, and partly because he wished to help the fight along.
Attacks were made and repelled, and there were feats of individual and
collective daring on the side of the defenders which were none the less
daring because the assailants stopped to cheer them, and to disable
themselves by laughing at the fury of the foe. A detachment of the young
men at last stormed the castle and so weakened its walls that they
toppled inward; then the defenders, to save themselves from being buried
under the avalanche, swarmed out into the open and made the entire force
of the enemy prisoners.
The men pretended that this was what might have been expected from the
beginning, but by this time the Berserker madness had possessed Miss
Macroyd, too; she left her throne of snow and came forward shouting that
it had been perfectly fair, and that the men had been really beaten, and
they had no right to pretend that they had given themselves up purposely.
The sex-partisanship, which is such a droll fact in women when there is
any question of their general opposition to men, possessed them all, and
they stood as, one girl for the reality of their triumph. This did not
prevent them from declaring that the men had behaved with outrageous
unfairness, and that the only one who fought with absolute sincerity from
first to last was Mr. Verrian.
Neither their unity of conviction concerning the general fact nor the
surprising deduction from it in Verrian's case operated to make them
refuse the help of their captives in getting home. When they had bound
up their tumbled hair, in some cases, and repaired the ravages of war
among their feathers and furs and draperies, in other cases, they
accepted the hands of the late enemy at difficult points of the path.
But they ran forward when they neared the house, and they were prompt to
scream upon Mrs. Westangle that there never had been such a success or
such fun, and that they were almost dead, and soon as they had something
to eat they were going to bed and never going to get up again.
In the details which they were able to give at luncheon, they did
justice to Verrian's noble part in the whole affair, which had saved the
day, not only in keeping them up to the work when they had got thinking
it couldn't be carried through, but in giving the combat a validity which
it would not have had without him. They had to thank him, next to Mrs.
Westangle herself, whom they praised beyond any articulate expression,
for thinking up such a delightful thing. They wondered how she could
ever have thought of it--such a simple thing too; and they were sure that
when people heard of it they would all be wanting to have snow battles.
Mrs. Westangle took her praises as passively, if not as modestly, as
Verrian received his. She made no show of disclaiming them, but she had
the art, invaluable in a woman who meant to go far in the line she had
chosen, of not seeming to have done anything, or of not caring whether
people liked it or not. Verrian asked himself, as he watched her
twittering back at those girls, and shedding equally their thanks and
praises from her impermeable plumage, how she would have behaved if Miss
Shirley's attempt had been an entire failure. He decided that she would
have ignored the failure with the same impersonality as that with which
she now ignored the success. It appeared that in one point he did her
injustice, for when he went up to dress for dinner after the long stroll
he took towards night he found a note under his door, by which he must
infer that Mrs. Westangle had not kept the real facts of her triumph from
the mistress of the revels.
"DEAR MR. VERRIAN, I am not likely to see you, but I must
"P. S. Don't try to answer, please."
Verrian liked, the note, he even liked the impulse which had dictated it,
and he understood the impulse; but he did not like getting the note. If
Miss Shirley meant business in taking up the line of life she had
professed to have entered upon seriously, she had better, in the case of
a young man whose acquaintance she had chanced to make, let her gratitude
wait. But when did a woman ever mean business, except in the one great
To have got that sillily superfluous note to Verrian without any one's
knowing besides, Miss Shirley must have stolen to his door herself and
slipped it under. In order to do this unsuspected and unseen, she must
have found out in some sort that would not give her away which his room
was, and then watched her chance. It all argued a pervasiveness in her,
after such a brief sojourn in the house, and a mastery of finesse that he
did not like, though, he reflected, he was not authorized to like or
dislike anything about her. He was thirty-seven years old, and he had
not lived through that time, with his mother at his elbow to suggest
inferences from facts, without being versed in wiles which, even when
they were honest, were always wiles, and in lures which, when they were
of the most gossamer tenuity, were yet of texture close enough to make
the man who blundered through them aware that they had been thrown across
his path. He understood, of course, that they were sometimes helplessly
thrown across it, and were mere expressions of abstract woman with
relation to abstract man, but that did not change their nature. He did
not abhor them, but he believed he knew them, and he believed now that he
detected one of them in Miss Shirley's note. Of course, one could take
another view of it. One could say to one's self that she was really so
fervently grateful that she could not trust some accident to bring them
together in a place where she was merely a part of the catering, as she
said, and he was a guest, and that she was excusable, or at least
mercifully explicable, in her wish to have him know that she appreciated
his goodness. Verrian had been very good, he knew that; he had saved the
day for the poor thing when it was in danger of the dreariest kind of
slump. She was a poor thing, as any woman was who had to make her own
way, and she had been sick and was charming. Besides, she had found out
his name and had probably recognized a quality of celebrity in it,
unknown to the other young people with whom he found himself so strangely
assorted under Mrs. Westangle's roof.
In the end, and upon the whole, Verrian would rather have liked, if the
thing could have been made to happen, meeting Miss Shirley long enough to
disclaim meriting her thanks, and to ascribe to the intrinsic value of
her scheme the brilliant success it had achieved. This would not have
been true, but it would have been encouraging to her; and in the revery
which followed upon his conditional desire he had a long imaginary
conversation with her, and discussed all her other plans for the revels
of the week. These had not the trouble of defining themselves very
distinctly in the conversation in order to win his applause, and their
consideration did not carry him with Miss Shirley beyond the strictly
professional ground on which they met.
She had apparently invented nothing for that evening, and the house party
was left to its own resources in dancing and sitting out dances, which
apparently fully sufficed it. They were all tired, and broke up early.
The women took their candles and went off to bed, and the men went to the
billiard-room to smoke. On the way down from his room, where he had gone
to put on his smoking-jacket, Verrian met Miss Macroyd coming up, candle
in hand, and received from her a tacit intimation that he might stop her
for a joking good-night.
"I hope you'll sleep well on your laurels as umpire," he said.
"Oh, thank you," she returned, "and I hope your laurels won't keep you
awake. It must seem to you as if it was blowing a perfect gale in them."
"What do you mean? I did nothing."
"Oh, I don't mean your promotion of the snow battle. But haven't you
heard?" He stared. "You've been found out!"
"Found out?" Verrian's soul was filled with the joy of literary fame.
"Yes. You can't conceal yourself now. You're Verrian the actor."
"The actor?" Verrian frowned blackly in his disgust, so blackly that
Miss Macroyd laughed aloud.
"Yes, the coming matinee idol. One of the girls recognized you as soon
as you came into the house, and the name settled it, though, of course,
you're supposed to be here incognito."
The mention of that name which he enjoyed in common with the actor made
Verrian furious, for when the actor first appeared with it in New York
Verrian had been at the pains to find out that it was not his real name,
and that he had merely taken it because of the weak quality of romance in
it, which Verrian himself had always disliked. But, of course, he could
not vent his fury on Miss Macroyd. All he could do was to ask, "Then
they have got my photograph on their dressing-tables, with candles
burning before it?"
"No, I don't believe I can give you that comfort. The fact is, your
acting is not much admired among the girls here, but they think you are
unexpectedly nice as a private person."
"That's something. And does Mrs. Westangle think I'm the actor, too?"
"How should Mrs. Westangle know what she thinks? And if she doesn't, how
"That's true. And are you going to give me away?"
"I haven't done it yet. But isn't it best to be honest?"
"It mightn't be a success."
"My literary celebrity."
"There's that," Miss Macroyd rejoiced. "Well, so far I've merely said I
was sure you were not Verrian the actor. I'll think the other part
over." She went on up-stairs, with the sound of her laugh following her,
and Verrian went gloomily back to the billiard-room, where he found most
of the smokers conspicuously yawning. He lighted a fresh cigar, and
while he smoked they dropped away one by one till only Bushwick was left.
"Some of the fellows are going Thursday," he said. "Are you going to
stick it out to the bitter end?"
Till then it had not occurred to Verrian that he was not going to stay
through the week, but now he said, "I don't know but I may go Thursday.
"I might as well stay on. I don't find much doing in real estate at
Christmas. Do you?"
This was fishing, but it was better than openly taking him for that
actor, and Verrian answered, unresentfully, "I don't know. I'm not in
that line exactly."
"Oh, I beg your pardon," Bushwick said. "I thought I had seen your name
with that of a West Side concern."
"No, I have a sort of outside connection with the publishing business."
"Oh," Bushwick returned, politely, and it would have been reassuringly if
Verrian had wished not to be known as an author. The secret in which he
lived in that regard was apparently safe from that young, amiable, good-
looking real-estate broker. He inferred, from the absence of any
allusion to the superstition of the women as to his profession, that it
had not spread to Bushwick at least, and this inclined him the more to
like him. They sat up talking pleasantly together about impersonal
affairs till Bushwick finished his cigar. Then he started for bed,
saying, "Well, good-night. I hope Mrs. Westangle won't have anything so
active on the tapis for tomorrow."
"Try and sleep it off. Good-night."
Verrian remained to finish his cigar, but at the end he was not yet
sleepy, and he thought he would get a book from the library, if that part
of the house were still lighted, and he looked out to see. Apparently it
was as brilliantly illuminated as when the company had separated there
for the night, and he pushed across the foyer hall that separated the
billiard-room from the drawing-zoom and library. He entered the drawing-
room, and in the depths of the library, relieved against the rows of
books in their glass cases, he startled Miss Shirley from a pose which
she seemed to be taking there alone.
At the instant of their mutual recognition she gave a little muted
shriek, and then gasped out, "I beg your pardon," while he was saying,
too, "I beg your pardon."
After a tacit exchange of forgiveness, he said, "I am afraid I startled
you. I was just coming for a book to read myself asleep with. I--"
"Not at all," she returned. "I was just--" Then she did not say what,
and he asked:
"Making some studies?"
"Yes," she owned, with reluctant promptness.
"I mustn't ask what," he suggested, and he made an effort to smile away
what seemed a painful perturbation in her as he went forward to look at
the book-shelves, from which, till then, she had not slipped aside.
"I'm in your way," she said, and he answered, "Not at all." He added to
the other sentence he had spoken, "If it's going to be as good as what
you gave us today--"
"You are very kind." She hesitated, and then she said, abruptly: "What I
did to-day owed everything to you, Mr. Verrian," and while he desisted
from searching the book-shelves, she stood looking anxiously at him, with
the pulse in her neck visibly throbbing. Her agitation was really
painful, but Verrian did not attribute it to her finding herself there
alone with him at midnight; for though the other guests had all gone to
bed, the house was awake in some of the servants, and an elderly woman
came in presently bringing a breadth of silvery gauze, which she held up,
asking if it was that.
"Not exactly, but it will do nicely, Mrs. Stager. Would you mind getting
me the very pale-blue piece that electric blue?"
"I'm looking for something good and dull," Verrian said, when the woman
"Travels are good, or narratives, for sleeping on," she said, with a
breathless effort for calm. "I found," she panted, "in my own insomnia,
that merely the broken-up look of a page of dialogue in a novel racked my
nerves so that I couldn't sleep. But narratives were beautifully
"Thank you," he responded; "that's a good idea." And stooping, with his
hands on his knees, he ranged back and forth along the shelves. "But
Mrs. Westangle's library doesn't seem to be very rich in narrative."
He had not his mind on the search perhaps, and perhaps she knew it. She
presently said, "I wish I dared ask you a favor--I mean your advice, Mr.
He lifted himself from his stooping posture and looked at her, smiling.
"Would that take much courage?" His smile was a little mocking; he was
thinking that a girl who would hurry that note to him, and would
personally see that it did not fail to reach him, would have the courage
for much more.
She did not reply directly. "I should have to explain, but I know you
won't tell. This is going to be my piece de resistance, my grand stunt.
I'm going to bring it off the last night." She stopped long enough for
Verrian to revise his resolution of going away with the fellows who were
leaving the middle of the week, and to decide on staying to the end.
"I am going to call it Seeing Ghosts."
"That's good," Verrian said, provisionally.
"Yes, I might say I was surprised at my thinking it up."
"That would be one form of modesty."
"Yes," she said, with a wan smile she had, "and then again it mightn't be
another." She went on, abruptly, "As many as like can take part in the
performance. It's to be given out, and distinctly understood beforehand,
that the ghost isn't a veridical phantom, but just an honest, made-up,
every-day spook. It may change its pose from time to time, or its
drapery, but the setting is to be always the same, and the people who
take their turns in seeing it are to be explicitly reassured, one after
another, that there's nothing in it, you know. The fun will be in seeing
how each one takes it, after they know what it really is."
"Then you're going to give us a study of temperaments."
"Yes," she assented. And after a moment, given to letting the notion get
quite home with her, she asked, vividly, "Would you let me use it?"
"The phrase? Why, certainly. But wouldn't it be rather too
psychological? I think just Seeing Ghosts would be better."
"Better than Seeing Ghosts: A Study of Temperaments? Perhaps it would.
It would be simpler."
"And in this house you need all the simplicity you can get," he
She smiled, intelligently but reticently. "My idea is that every one
somehow really believes in ghosts--I know I do--and so fully expects to
see one that any sort of make-up will affect them for the moment just as
if they did see one. I thought--that perhaps--I don't know how to say it
without seeming to make use of you--"
"Oh, do make use of me, Miss Shirley!"
"That you could give me some hints about the setting, with your knowledge
of the stage--" She stopped, having rushed forward to that point, while
he continued to look steadily at her without answering her. She faced
him courageously, but not convincingly.
"Did you think that I was an actor?" he asked, finally.
"Mrs. Westangle seemed to think you were."
"But did you?"
"I'm sure I didn't mean--I beg your pardon--"
"It's all right. If I were an actor I shouldn't be ashamed of it. But I
was merely curious to know whether you shared the prevalent superstition.
I'm afraid I can't help you from a knowledge of the stage, but if I can
be of use, from a sort of amateur interest in psychology, with an affair
like this I shall be only too glad."
"Thank you," she said, somewhat faintly, with an effect of dismay
disproportionate to the occasion.
She sank into a chair before which she had been standing, and she looked
as if she were going to swoon.
He started towards her with an alarmed "Miss Shirley."
She put out a hand weakly to stay him. "Don't!" she entreated.
"I'm a little--I shall be all right in a moment."
"Can't I get you something--call some one?"
"Not for the world!" she commanded, and she pulled herself together and
stood up. "But I think I'll stop for to-night. I'm glad my idea strikes
you favorably. It's merely--Oh, you found it, Mrs. Stager!" She broke
off to address the woman who had now come back and was holding up the
trailing breadths of the electric-blue gauze. "Isn't it lovely?"
She gave herself time to adore the drapery, with its changes of meteoric
lucence, before she rose and took it. She went with it to the background
in the library, where, against the glass door of the cases, she involved
herself in it and stood shimmering. A thrill pierced to Verrian's heart;
she was indeed wraithlike, so that he hated to have her call, "How will
that do ?"
Mrs. Stager modestly referred the question to him by her silence.
"I will answer for its doing, if it does for the others as it's done for
She laughed. "And you doubly knew what it was. Yes, I think it will
go." She took another pose, and then another. "What do you think of it,
Mrs. Stager?" she called to the woman standing respectfully abeyant at
"It's awful. I don't know but I'll be afraid to go to my room."
"Sit down, and I'll go to your room with you when I'm through. I won't
be long, now."
She tried different gauzes, which she had lying on one of the chairs, and
crowned herself with triumph in the applauses of her two spectators,
rejoicing with a glee that Verrian found childlike and winning.
"If they're all like you, it will be the greatest success!"
"They'll all be like me, and more," he said, "I'm really very severe."
"Are you a severe person?" she asked, coming forward to him. "Ought
people to be afraid of you?"
"Yes, people with bad consciences. I'm rattier afraid of myself for that
"Have you got a bad conscience?" she asked, letting her eyes rest on his.
"Yes. I can't make my conduct square with my ideal of conduct."
"I know what that is!" she sighed. "Do you expect to be punished for
"I expect to be got even with."
"Yes, one is. I've noticed that myself. But I didn't suppose that
actors--Oh, I forgot! I beg your pardon again, Mr. Verrian. Oh--
Goodnight!" She faced him evanescently in going out, with the woman
after her, but, whether she did so more in fear or more in defiance, she
left him standing motionless in his doubt, and she did nothing to solve
his doubt when she came quickly back alone, before he was aware of having
moved, to say, "Mr. Verrian, I want to--I have to--tell you that--
I didn't think you were the actor." Then she was finally gone, and
Verrian had nothing for it but to go up to his room with the book he
found he had in his hand and must have had there all the time.
If he had read it, the book would not have eased him off to sleep, but he
did not even try, to read it. He had no wish to sleep. The waking dream
in which he lost himself was more interesting than any vision of slumber
could have been, and he had no desire to end it. In that he could still
be talking with the girl whose mystery appealed to him so pleasingly.
It was none the less pleasing because, at what might be called her first
blushes, she did not strike him as altogether ingenuous, but only able to
discipline herself into a final sincerity from a consciousness which had
been taught wisdom by experience.
She was still a scarcely recovered invalid, and it was pathetic that she
should be commencing the struggle of life with strength so little
proportioned to the demand upon it; and the calling she had taken up was
of a fantasticality in some aspects which was equally pathetic. But all
the undertakings of women, he mused, were piteous, not only because women
were unequal to the struggle at the best, but because they were hampered
always with themselves, with their sex, their femininity, and the
necessity of getting it out of the way before they could really begin to
fight. Whatever they attempted it must be in relation to the man's world
in which livings were made; but the immemorial conditions were almost
wholly unchanged. A woman approached this world as a woman, with the
inborn instinct of tempting it as a woman, to win it to love her and make
her a wife and mother; and although she might stoically overcome the
temptation at last, it might recur at any moment and overcome her. This
was perpetually weakening and imperilling her, and she must feel it at
the encounter with each man she met. She must feel the tacit and even
unconscious irony of his attitude towards her in her enterprise, and the
finer her make the crueller and the more humiliating and disheartening
this must be.
Of course, this Miss Shirley felt Verrian's irony, which he had guarded
from any expression with genuine compassion for her. She must feel that
to his knowledge of life she and her experiment had an absurdity which
would not pass, whatever their success might be. If she meant business,
and business only, they ought to have met as two men would have met, but
he knew that they had not done so, and she must have known it. All that
was plain sailing enough, but beyond this lay a sea of conjecture in
which he found himself without helm or compass. Why, should she have
acted a fib about his being an actor, and why, after the end, should she
have added an end, in which she returned to own that she had been
fibbing? For that was what it came to; and though Verrian tasted a
delicious pleasure in the womanish feat by which she overcame her
womanishness, he could not puzzle out her motive. He was not sure that
he wished to puzzle it out. To remain with illimitable guesses at his
choice was more agreeable, for the present at least, and he was not aware
of having lapsed from them when he woke so late as to be one of the
breakfasters whose plates were kept for them after the others were gone.
It was the first time that Verrian had come down late, and it was his
novel experience to find himself in charge of Mrs. Stager at breakfast,
instead of the butler and the butler's man, who had hitherto served him
at the earlier hour. There were others, somewhat remote from him, at
table, who were ending when he was beginning, and when they had joked
themselves out of the room and away from Mrs. Stager's ministrations he
was left alone to her. He had instantly appreciated a quality of
motherliness in her attitude towards him, and now he was sensible of a
kindly intimacy to which he rather helplessly addressed himself.
"Well, Mrs. Stager, did you see a ghost on your way to bed?"
"I don't know as I really expected to," she said. "Won't you have a few
more of the buckwheats?"
"Do you think I'd better? I believe I won't. They're very tempting.
Miss Shirley makes a very good ghost," he suggested.
Mrs. Stager would not at first commit herself further than to say in
bringing him the butter, "She's just up from a long fit of sickness."
She impulsively added, "She ain't hardly strong enough to be doing what
she is, I tell her."
"I understood she had been ill," Verrian said. "We drove over from the
station together, the other day."
"Yes," Mrs. Stager admitted. "Kind of a nervous breakdown, I believe.
But she's got an awful spirit. Mrs. Westangle don't want her to do all
she is doing."
Verrian looked at her in surprise. He had not expected that of the
India-rubber nature he had attributed to Mrs. Westangle. In view of Mrs.
Stager's privity to the unimagined kindliness of his hostess, he relaxed
himself in a further interest in Miss Shirley, as if it would now be
safe. "She's done splendidly, so far," he said, meaning the girl.
"I'm glad Mrs. Westangle appreciates her work."
"I guess," Mrs. Stager said, "that if it hadn't been for you at the snow-
fight--She got back from getting ready for it, that morning, almost down
sick, she was afraid so it was going to fail."
"I didn't do anything," Verrian said, putting the praise from him.
Mrs. Stager lowered her voice in an octave of deeper confidentiability.
"You got the note? I put it under, and I didn't know."
"Oh yes, I got it," Verrian said, sensible of a relief, which he would
not assign to any definite reason, in knowing that Miss Shirley had not
herself put it under his door. But he now had to take up another burden
in the question whether Miss Shirley were of an origin so much above that
of her confidant that she could have a patrician fearlessness in making
use of her, or were so near Mrs. Stager's level of life that she would
naturally turn to her for counsel and help. Miss Shirley had the accent,
the manners, and the frank courage of a lady; but those things could be
learned; they were got up for the stage every day.
Verrian was roused from the muse he found he had fallen into by hearing
Mrs. Stager ask, "Won't you have some more coffee?"
"No, thank you," he said. And now he rose from the table, on which he
dreamily dropped his napkin, and got his hat and coat and went out for a
walk. He had not studied the art of fiction so long, in the many private
failures that had preceded his one public success, without being made to
observe that life sometimes dealt in the accidents and coincidences which
his criticism condemned as too habitually the resource of the novelist.
Hitherto he had disdained them for this reason; but since his serial
story was off his hands, and he was beginning to look about him for fresh
material, he had doubted more than once whether his severity was not the
effect of an unjustifiable prejudice.
It struck him now, in turning the corner of the woodlot above the meadow
where the snow-battle had taken place, and suddenly finding himself face
to face with Miss Shirley, that nature was in one of her uninventive
moods and was helping herself out from the old stock-in-trade of fiction.
All the same, he felt a glow of pleasure, which was also a glow of pity;
for while Miss Shirley looked, as always, interesting, she look tired,
too, with a sort of desperate air which did not otherwise account for
itself. She had given, at sight of him, a little start, and a little
"Oh!" dropped from her lips, as if it had been jostled from them. She
made haste to go on, with something like the voluntary hardiness of the
courage that plucks itself from the primary emotion of fear, "You are
going down to try the skating?"
"Do I look it, without skates?"
"You may be going to try the sliding," she returned. "I'm afraid there
won't be much of either for long. This soft air is going to make havoc
of my plans for to-morrow."
"That's too bad of it. Why not hope for a hard freeze to-night? You
might as well. The weather has been known to change its mind. You might
even change your plans."
"No, I can't do that. I can't think of anything else. It's to bridge
over the day that's left before Seeing Ghosts. If it does freeze, you'll
come to Mrs. Westangle's afternoon tea on the pond?"
"I certainly shall. How is it to be worked?"
"She's to have her table on a platform, with runners, in a bower of
evergreen boughs, and be pushed about, and the people are to skate up for
the tea. There are to be tea and chocolate, and two girls to pour, just
as in real life. It isn't a very dazzling idea, but I thought it might
do; and Mrs. Westangle is so good-natured. Now, if the thermometer will
do its part!"
"I am sure it will," Verrian said, but a glance at the gray sky did not
confirm him in his prophetic venture. The snow was sodden under foot; a
breath from the south stirred the pines to an Aeolian response and moved
the stiff, dry leaves of the scrub-oaks. A sapsucker was marking an
accurate circle of dots round the throat of a tall young maple, and
enjoying his work in a low, guttural soliloquy, seemingly, yet,
dismayingly, suggestive of spring.
"It's lovely, anyway," she said, following his glance with an upward turn
of her face.
"Yes, it's beautiful. I think this sort of winter day is about the best
the whole year can do. But I will sacrifice the chance of another like
it to your skating-tea, Miss Shirley."
He did not know why he should have made this speech to her, but
apparently she did, and she said, "You're always coming to my help, Mr.
"Don't mention it!"
"I won't, then," she said, with a smile that showed her thin face at its
thinnest and left her lip caught on her teeth till she brought it down
voluntarily. It was a small but full lip and pretty, and this trick of
it had a fascination. She added, gravely, "I don't believe you will like
"I haven't any active hostility to it. You can't always be striking
twelve--twelve midnight--as you will be in Seeing Ghosts. But your ice-
tea will do very well for striking five. I'm rather elaborate!"
"Not too elaborate to hide your real opinion. I wonder what you do think
of my own elaboration--I mean of my scheme."
They had moved on, at his turning to walk with her, so as not to keep her
standing in the snow, and now she said, looking over her shoulder at him,
"I've decided that it won't do to let the ghost have all the glory. I
don't think it will be fair to let the people merely be scared, even when
they've been warned that they're to see a ghost and told it isn't real."
She seemed to refer the point to him, and he said, provisionally,
"I don't know what more they can ask."
"They can ask questions. I'm going to let each person speak to the
ghost, if not scared dumb, and ask it just what they please; and I'm
going to answer their questions if I can."
"Won't it be something of an intellectual strain?"
"Yes, it will. But it will be fun, too, a little, and it will help the
thing to go off. What do you think?"
"I think it's fine. Are you going to give it out, so that they can be
studying up their questions?"
"No, their questions have got to be impromptu. Or, at least, the first
one has. Of course, after the scheme has once been given away, the
ghost-seers will be more or less prepared, and the ghost will have to
"I think it's great. Are you going to let me have a chance with a
"Are you going to see a ghost?"
"To be sure I am. May I really ask it what I please?"
"If you're honest."
"Oh, I shall be honest--"
He stopped breathlessly, but she did not seem called upon to supply any
meaning for his abruptness. "I'm awfully glad you like the idea," she
said, "I have had to think the whole thing out for myself, and I haven't
been quite certain that the question-asking wasn't rather silly, or, at
least, sillier than the rest. Thank you so much, Mr. Verrian."
"I've thought of my question," he began again, as abruptly as he had
stopped before. "May I ask it now?"
Cries of laughter came up from the meadow below, and the voices seemed
"Oh, I mustn't be seen!" Miss Shirley lamented. "Oh, dear! If I'm seen
the whole thing is given away. What shall I do?" She whirled about and
ran down the road towards a path that entered the wood.
He ran after her. "My question is, May I come to see you when you get
back to town?"
"Yes, certainly. But don't come now! You mustn't be seen with me! I'm
not supposed to be in the house at all."
If Verrian's present mood had been more analytic, it might have occurred
to him that the element of mystery which Miss Shirley seemed to cherish
in regard to herself personally was something that she could dramatically
apply with peculiar advantage to the phantasmal part she was to take in
her projected entertainment. But he was reduced from the exercise of his
analytic powers to a passivity in which he was chiefly conscious of her
pathetic fascination. This seemed to emanate from her frail prettiness
no less than from the sort of fearful daring with which she was pushing
her whole enterprise through; it came as much from her undecided
blondness--from her dust-colored hair, for instance--as from the
entreating look of her pinched eyes, only just lighting their
convalescent fires, and from the weakness that showed, with the grace,
in her run through the wintry woods, where he watched her till the
underbrush thickened behind her and hid her from him. Altogether his
impression was very complex, but he did not get so far even as the
realization of this, in his mental turmoil, as he turned with a deep sigh
and walked meditatively homeward through the incipient thaw.
It did not rain at night, as it seemed so likely to do, and by morning
the cloudiness of the sky had so far thinned that the sun looked mildly
through it without more than softening the frozen surface of the pond,
so that Mrs. Westangle's ice-tea (as everybody called it, by a common
inspiration, or by whatever circuitous adoption of Verrian's phrase) came
off with great success. People from other houses were there, and they
all said that they wondered how she came to have such a brilliant idea,
and they kept her there till nearly dark. Then the retarded rain began,
in a fine drizzle, and her house guests were forced homeward, but not too
soon to get a good, long rest before dressing for dinner. She was
praised for her understanding with the weather, and for her
meteorological forecast as much as for her invention in imagining such a
delightful and original thing as an ice-tea, which no one else had ever
thought of. Some of the women appealed to Verrian to say if he had ever
heard of anything like it; and they felt that Mrs. Westangle was
certainly arriving, and by no beaten track.
None of the others put it in these terms, of course; it was merely a
consensus of feeling with them, and what was more articulate was dropped
among the ironies with which Miss Macroyd more confidentially celebrated
the event. Out of hearing of the others, in slowly following them with
Verrian, she recurred to their talk. "Yes, it's only a question of money
enough for Newport, after this. She's chic now, and after a season there
she will be smart. But oh, dear! How came she to be chic? Can you
Verrian did not feel bound to a categorical answer, and in his private
reflections he dealt with another question. This was how far Miss
Shirley was culpable in the fraud she was letting Mrs. Westangle practise
on her innocent guests. It was a distasteful question, and he did not
find it much more agreeable when it subdivided itself into the question
of necessity on her part, and of a not very clearly realized situation on
Mrs. Westangle's. The girl had a right to sell her ideas, and perhaps
the woman thought they were her own when she had paid for them. There
could be that view of it all. The furtive nature of Miss Shirley's
presence in the house might very well be a condition of that grand event
she was preparing. It was all very mysterious.
It rained throughout the evening, with a wailing of the wind in the
gables, and a weeping and a sobbing of the water from the eaves that Mrs.
Westangle's guests, securely housed from the storm, made the most of for
weirdness. There had been a little dancing, which gave way to so much
sitting-out that the volunteer music abruptly ceased as if in dudgeon,
and there was nothing left but weirdness to bring young hearts together.
Weirdness can do a good deal with girls lounging in low chairs, and young
men on rugs round a glowing hearth at their feet; and every one told some
strange thing that had happened at first hand, or second or third hand,
either to himself or herself, or to their fathers or brothers or
grandmothers or old servants. They were stimulated in eking out these
experiences not only by the wildness of the rain without, but by the
mystery of being shut off from the library into the drawing-room and hall
while the preparations for the following night were beginning. But
weirdness is not inexhaustible, even when shared on such propitious terms
between a group of young people rapidly advanced in intimacy by a week's
stay under the same roof, and at the first yawn a gay dispersion of the
votaries ended it all.
The yawn came from Bushwick, who boldly owned, when his guilt was brought
home to him, that he was sleepy, and then as he expected to be scared out
of a year's growth the next night, and not be able to sleep for a week
afterwards, he was now going to bed. He shook hands with Mrs. Westangle
for good-night. The latest to follow him was Verrian, who, strangely
alert, and as far from drowsiness as he had ever known himself, was yet
more roused by realizing that Mrs. Westangle was not letting his hand go
at once, but, unless it was mere absent-mindedness, was conveying through
it the wish to keep him. She fluttered a little more closely up to him,
and twittered out, "Miss Shirley wants me to let you know that she has
told me about your coming together, and everything."
"Oh, I'm very glad," Verrian said, not sure that it was the right thing.
"I don't know why she feels so, but she has a right to do as she pleases
about it. She's not a guest."
"No," Verrian assented.
"It happens very well, though, for the ghost-seeing that people don't
know she's here. After that I shall tell them. In fact, she wants me
to, for she must be on the lookout for other engagements. I am going to
do everything I can for her, and if you hear of anything--"
Verrian bowed, with a sense of something offensive in her words which he
could not logically feel, since it was a matter of business and was put
squarely on a business basis. "I should be very glad," he said,
"She was sure from the first," Mrs. Westangle went on, as if there were
some relation between the fact and her request, "that you were not the
actor. She knew you were a writer."
"Oh, indeed!" Verrian said.
"I thought that if you were writing for the newspapers you might know how
to help her-"
"I'm not a newspaper writer," Verrian answered, with a resentment which
she seemed to feel, for she said, with a sort of apology in her tone:
"Oh! Well, I don't suppose it matters. She doesn't know I'm speaking to
you about that; it just came into my head. I like to help in a worthy
object, you know. I hope you'll have a good night's rest."
She turned and looked round with the air of distraction which she had
after speaking to any one, and which Verrian fancied came as much from a
paucity as from a multiplicity of suggestion in her brain, and so left
him standing. But she came back to say, "Of course, it's all between
ourselves till after to-morrow night, Mr. Verrian."
"Oh, certainly," he replied, and went vaguely off in the direction of the
billiard-room. It was light and warm there, though the place was empty,
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