Fennel and Rue
William Dean Howells
Part 2 out of 3
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,
and he decided upon a cigar as a proximate or immediate solution. He sat
smoking before the fire till the tobacco's substance had half turned into
a wraith of ash, and not really thinking of anything very definitely,
except the question whether he should be able to sleep after he went to
bed, when he heard a creeping step on the floor. He turned quickly, with
a certain expectance in his nerves, and saw nothing more ghostly than
Bushwick standing at the corner of the table and apparently hesitating
how to speak to him.
He said, "Hello!" and at this Bushwick said:
"Well?" Verrian asked, looking at him.
"How does it happen you're up so late, after everybody else is wrapped in
"I might ask the same of you."
"Well, I found I wasn't making it a case of sleep, exactly, and so I got
"Well, I hadn't gone to bed for much the same reason. Why couldn't you
sleep? A real-estate broker ought to have a clean conscience."
"So ought a publisher, for that matter. What do you think of this ghost-
"It might be amusing--if it fails." Verrian was tempted to add the
condition by the opportunity for a cynicism which he did not feel. It is
one of the privileges of youth to be cynical, whether or no.
Bushwick sat down before the fire and rubbed his shins with his two hands
unrestfully, drawing in a long breath between his teeth. "These things
get on to my nerves sometimes. I shouldn't want the ghost-dance to
"On Mrs. Westangle's account?"
"I guess Mrs. Westangle could stand it. Look here!" It was rather a
customary phrase of his, Verrian noted. As he now used it he looked
alertly round at Verrian, with his hands still on his shins. "What's the
use of our beating round the bush?"
Verrian delayed his answer long enough to decide against the aimless pun
of asking, "What Bushwick?" and merely asked, "What bush?"
"The bush where the milk in the cocoanut grows. You don't pretend that
you believe Mrs. Westangle has been getting up all these fairy stunts?"
Verrian returned to his cigar, from which the ashen wraith dropped into
his lap. "I guess you'll have to be a little clearer." But as Bushwick
continued silently looking at him, the thing could not be left at this
point, and he was obliged to ask of his own initiative, "How much do you
Bushwick leaned back in his chair, with his eyes still on Verrian's
profile. "As much as Miss Macroyd could tell me."
"Ah, I'm still in the dark," Verrian politely regretted, but not with a
tacit wish to wring Miss Macroyd's neck, which he would not have known
how to account for.
"Well, she says that Mrs. Westangle has a professional assistant who's
doing the whole job for her, and that she came down on the same train
with herself and you."
"Did she say that she grabbed the whole victoria for herself and maid at
the station?" Verrian demanded, in a burst of rage, "and left us to get
here the best way we could?"
Bushwick grinned. "She supposed there were other carriages, and when she
found there weren't she hurried the victoria back for you."
"You think she believes all that? I'm glad she has the decency to be
ashamed of her behavior."
"I'm not defending her. Miss Macroyd knows how to take care of herself."
The matter rather dropped for the moment, in which Bushwick filled a pipe
he took from his pocket and lighted it. After the first few whiffs he
took it from his mouth, and, with a droll look across at Verrian, said,
"Who was your fair friend?"
If Verrian was going to talk of this thing, he was not going to do it
with the burden of any sort of reserve or contrivance on his soul. "This
afternoon?" Bushwick nodded; and Verrian added, "That was she." Then he
went on, wrathfully: "She's a girl who has to make her living, and she's
doing it in a new way that she's invented for herself. She has supposed
that the stupid rich, or the lazy rich, who want to entertain people may
be willing to pay for ideas, and she proposes to supply the ideas for a
money consideration. She's not a guest in the house, and she won't take
herself on a society basis at all. I don't know what her history is, and
I don't care. She's a lady by training, and, if she had the accent, I
should say she was from the South, for she has the enterprise of the
South that comes North and tries to make its living. It's all
inexpressibly none of my business, but I happen to be knowing to so much
of the case, and if you're knowing to anything else, Mr. Bushwick, I want
you to get it straight. That's why I'm talking of it, and not because I
think you've any right to know anything about it."
"Thank you," Bushwick returned, unruffled. "It's about what Miss Macroyd
told me. That's the reason I don't want the ghost-dance to fail."
Verrian did not notice him. He found it more important to say: "She's
so loyal to Mrs. Westangle that she wouldn't have wished, in Mrs.
Westangle's interest, to have her presence, or her agency in what is
going on, known; but, of course, if Mrs. Westangle chooses to, tell it,
that's her affair."
"She would have had to tell it, sooner or later, Mrs. Westangle would;
and she only told it to Miss Macroyd this afternoon on compulsion, after
Miss Macroyd and I had seen you in the wood-road, and Mrs. Westangle had
to account for the young lady's presence there in your company. Then
Miss Macroyd had to tell me; but I assure you, my dear fellow, the matter
hasn't gone any further."
"Oh, it's quite indifferent to me," Verrian retorted. "I'm nothing but
a dispassionate witness of the situation."
"Of course," Bushwick assented, and then he added, with a bonhomie really
so amiable that a man with even an unreasonable grudge could hardly
resist it, "If you call it dispassionate."
Verrian could not help laughing. "Well, passionate, then. I don't know
why it should be so confoundedly vexatious. But somehow I would have
chosen Miss Macroyd--Is she specially dear to you?"
"Not the least!"
"I would have chosen her as the last person to have the business, which
is so inexpressibly none of my business--"
"Or mine, as I think you remarked," Bushwick interposed.
"Come out through," Verrian concluded, accepting his interposition with a
"I see what you mean," Bushwick said, after a moment's thought. "But,
really, I don't think it's likely to go further. If you want to know,
I believe Miss Macroyd feels the distinction of being in the secret so
much that she'll prefer to hint round till Mrs. Westangle gives the thing
away. She had to tell me, because I was there with her when she saw you
with the young lady, to keep me from going with my curiosity to you.
Come, I do think she's honest about it."
"Don't you think they're rather more dangerous when they're honest?"
"Well, only when they're obliged to be. Cheer up! I don't believe Miss
Macroyd is one to spoil sport."
"Oh, I think I shall live through it," Verrian said, rather stiffening
again. But he relaxed, in rising from his chair, and said, "Well, good-
night, old fellow. I believe I shall go to bed now."
"You won't wait for me till my pipe's out?"
"No, I think not. I seem to be just making it, and if I waited I might
lose my grip." He offered Bushwick a friendly hand.
"Do you suppose it's been my soothing conversation? I'm like the actor
that the doctor advised to go and see himself act. I can't talk myself
"You might try it," Verrian said, going out.
The men who had talked of going away on Thursday seemed to have found it
practicable to stay. At any rate, they were all there on the Saturday
night for the ghost-seeing, and, of course, none of the women had gone.
What was more remarkable, in a house rather full of girls, nobody was
sick; or, at least, everybody was well enough to be at dinner, and, after
dinner, at the dance, which impatiently, if a little ironically, preceded
the supernatural part of the evening's amusement. It was the decorum of
a woman who might have been expected not to have it that Mrs. Westangle
had arranged that the evening's amusement should not pass the bound
between Saturday night and Sunday morning. The supper was to be later,
but that was like other eating and drinking on the Sabbath; and it was to
be a cold supper.
At half-past ten the dancing stopped in the foyer and the drawing-room,
and by eleven the guests were all seated fronting the closed doors of the
library. There were not so many of them but that in the handsome space
there was interval enough to lend a desired distance to the apparitions;
and when the doors were slid aside it was applausively found that there
was a veil of gauze falling from the roof to the floor, which promised
its aid in heightening the coming mystery. This was again heightened by
the universal ignorance as to how the apparitions were to make their
advents and on what terms.
It was with an access of a certain nervous anxiety that Verrian found
himself next Miss Macroyd, whose frank good-fellowship first expressed
itself in a pleasure at the chance which he did not share, and then
extended to a confidential sympathy for the success of the enterprise
which he did not believe she felt. She laughed, but 'sotto voce', in
bending her head close to his and whispering, "I hope she'll be equal to
her 'mise en scene'. It's really very nice. So simple." Besides the
gauze veil, there was no preparation except in the stretch of black
drapery which hid the book-shelves at the farther wall of the library.
"Mrs. Westangle's note is always simplicity," Verrian returned.
"Oh yes, indeed! And you wish to keep up the Westangle convention?"
"I don't see any reason for dropping it."
"Oh, none in the world," she mocked.
He determined to push her, since she had tried to push him, and he asked,
"What reason could there be?"
"Now, Mr. Verrian, asking a woman for a reason! I shall begin to think
some one else wrote your book, too! Perhaps she'll take up supplying
ideas to authors as well as hostesses. Of course, I mean Mrs.
Verrian wished he had not tried to push Miss Macroyd, and he was still
grinding his teeth in a vain endeavor to get out some fit retort between
them, when he saw Bushwick shuffling to his feet, in the front row of the
spectators, and heard him beginning a sort of speech.
"Ladies and gentlemen: Mrs. Westangle has chosen me, because a real-
estate broker is sometimes an auctioneer, and may be supposed to have the
gift of oratory, to make known the conditions on which you may interview
the ghosts which you are going to see. Anybody may do it who will comply
with the conditions. In the first place, you have got to be serious, and
to think up something that you would really like to know about your past,
present, or future. Remember, this is no joking matter, and the only
difference between the ghost that you will see here and a real
materialization under professional auspices is that the ghost won't
charge you anything. Of course, if any lady or gentleman--especially
lady--wishes to contribute to any charitable object, after a satisfactory
interview with the ghost, a hat will be found at the hall-door for the
purpose, and Mrs. Westangle will choose the object: I have put in a
special plea for my own firm, at a season when the real-estate business
is not at its best." By this time Bushwick had his audience laughing,
perhaps the more easily because they were all more or less in a
hysterical mood, which, whether we own it or not, is always induced by an
approximation to the supernatural. He frowned and said, "NO laughing!"
and then they laughed the more. When he had waited for them to be quiet
he went on gravely, "The conditions are simply these: Each person who
chooses may interview the ghost, keeping a respectful distance, but not
so far off but that the ghost can distinctly hear a stage whisper. The
question put must be seriously meant, and it must be the question which
the questioner would prefer to have answered above everything else at the
time being. Certain questions will be absolutely ruled out, such as,
'Does Maria love me?' or, 'Has Reuben ever been engaged before?' The
laughter interrupted the speaker again, and Verrian hung his head in rage
and shame; this stupid ass was spoiling the hope of anything beautiful in
the spectacle and turning it into a gross burlesque. Somehow he felt
that the girl who had invented it had meant, in the last analysis,
something serious, and it was in her behalf that he would have liked to
choke Bushwick. All the time he believed that Miss Macroyd, whose laugh
sounded above the others, was somehow enjoying his indignation and
divining its reason.
"Other questions, touching intemperance or divorce, the questioner will
feel must not be asked; though it isn't necessary to more than suggest
this, I hope; it will be left entirely to the good taste and good feeling
of the--party. We all know what the temptations of South Dakota and the
rum fiend are, and that to err is human, and forgive divine." He paused,
having failed to get a laugh, but got it by asking, confidentially,
"Where was I? Oh!"--he caught himself up--" I remember. Those of you
who are in the habit of seeing ghosts need not be told that a ghost never
speaks first; and those who have never met an apparition before, but are
in the habit of going to the theatre, will recall the fact that in W.
Shakespeare's beautiful play of 'Hamlet' the play could not have gone on
after the first scene if Horatio had not spoken to the ghost of Hamlet's
father and taken the chances of being snubbed. Here there are no chances
of that kind; the chances are that you'll wish the ghost had not been
entreated: I think that is the phrase."
In the laugh that followed a girl on Miss Macroyd's other hand audibly
asked her, "Oh, isn't he too funny?"
"Delicious!" Miss Macroyd agreed. Verrian felt she said it to vex him.
"Now, there's just one other point," Bushwick resumed, "and then I have
done. Only one question can be allowed to each person, but if the
questioner is a lady she can ask a question and a half, provided she is
not satisfied with the answer. In this case, however, she will only get
half an answer. Now I have done, and if my arguments have convinced any
one within the sound of my voice that our ghost really means business,
I shall feel fully repaid for the pains and expense of getting up these
few impromptu remarks, to which I have endeavored to give a humorous
character, in order that you may all laugh your laugh out, and no
unseemly mirth may interrupt the subsequent proceedings. We will now
have a little music, and those who can recall my words will be allowed to
In the giggling and chatter which ensued the chords softly played passed
into ears that might as well have been deaf; but at last there was a
general quiescence of expectation, in which every one's eyes were
strained to pierce through the gauze curtain to the sombre drapery
beyond. The wait was so long that the tension relaxed and a whispering
began, and Verrian felt a sickness of pity for the girl who was probably
going to make a failure of it. He asked himself what could have happened
to her. Had she lost courage? Or had her physical strength, not yet
fully renewed, given way under the stress? Or had she, in sheer disgust
for the turn the affair had been given by that brute Bushwick, thrown up
the whole business? He looked round for Mrs. Westangle; she was not
there; he conjectured--he could only conjecture--that she was absent
conferring with Miss Shirley and trying to save the day.
A long, deeply sighed "Oh-h-h-h!" shuddering from many lips made him turn
abruptly, and he saw, glimmering against the pall at the bottom of the
darkened library, a figure vaguely white, in which he recognized a pose,
a gesture familiar to him. For the others the figure was It, but for him
it was preciously She. It was she, and she was going to carry it
through; she was going to triumph, and not fail. A lump came into his 96
throat, and a mist blurred his eyes, which, when it cleared again, left
him staring at nothing.
A girl's young voice uttered the common feeling, "Why, is that all?"
"It is, till some one asks the ghost a question; then it will reappear,"
Bushwick rose to say. "Will Miss Andrews kindly step forward and ask the
question nearest her heart?"
"Oh no!" the girl answered, with a sincerity that left no one quite free
"Some other lady, then?" Bushwick suggested. No one moved, and he added,
"This is a difficulty which had been foreseen. Some gentleman will step
forward and put the question next his heart." Again no one offered to go
forward, and there was some muted laughter, which Bushwick checked.
"This difficulty had been foreseen, too. I see that I shall have to make
the first move, and all that I shall require of the audience is that I
shall not be supposed to be in collusion with the illusion. I hope that
after my experience, whatever it is, some young woman of courage will
He passed into the foyer, and from that came into the library, where he
showed against the dark background in an attitude of entreaty slightly
burlesqued. The ghost reappeared.
"Shall I marry the woman I am thinking of?" he asked.
The phantom seemed to hesitate; it wavered like a pale reflection cast
against the pall. Then, in the tones which Verrian knew, the answer
"Ask her. She will tell you."
The phantom had scored a hit, and the applause was silenced with
difficulty; but Verrian felt that Miss Shirley had lost ground. It could
not have been for the easy cleverness of such a retort that she had
planned the affair. Yet, why not? He was taking it too seriously. It
was merely business with her.
"And I haven't even the right to half a question more!" Bushwick
lamented, in a dramatized dejection, and crossed slowly back from the
library to his place.
"Why, haven't you got enough?" one of the men asked, amidst the gay
clamor of the women.
The ghost was gone again, and its evanescence was discussed with ready
wonder. Another of the men went round to tempt his fate, and the phantom
suddenly reappeared so near him that he got a laugh by his start of
dismay. "I forgot what I was going to ask, he faltered.
"I know what it was," the apparition answered. "You had better sell."
"But they say it will go to a hundred!" the man protested.
"No back--talk, Rogers!" Bushwick interposed. "That was the
"But we didn't understand," one of the girls said, coming to the rescue,
"that the ghost was going to answer questions that were not asked. That
would give us all away."
"Then the only thing is for you to go and ask before it gets a chance to
answer," Bushwick said.
"Well, I will," the girl returned. And she swept round into the library,
where she encountered the phantom with a little whoop as it started into
sight before her. "I'm not going to be scared out of it!" she said,
defiantly. "It's simply this: Did the person I suspect really take the
The answer came, "Look on the floor under your dressing-table!"
"Well, if I find it there," the girl addressed the company, "I'm a
spiritualist from this time forth." And she came back to her place,
where she remained for some time explaining to those near how she had
lately lost her ring and suspected her maid, whom she had dismissed.
Upon the whole, the effect was serious. The women, having once started,
needed no more urging. One after another they confronted and questioned
the oracle with increasing sincerity.
Miss Macroyd asked Verrian, "Hadn't you better take your chance and stop
this flow of fatuity, Mr. Verrian?"
"I'm afraid I should be fatuous, too," he said. "But you?"
"Oh, thank you, I don't believe in ghosts, though this seems to be a very
pretty one--very graceful, I mean. I suppose a graceful woman would be
graceful even when a disembodied spirit. I should think she would be
getting a little tried with all this questioning; but perhaps we're only
reading the fatigue into her. The ghost may be merely overdone."
"It might easily be that," Verrian assented.
"Oh, may I ask it something now?" a girl's voice appealed to Bushwick.
It was the voice of that Miss Andrews who had spoken first, and first
refused to question the ghost. She was the youngest of Mrs. Westangle's
guests, and Verrian had liked her, with a sense of something precious in
the prolongation of a child's unconsciousness into the consciousness of
girlhood which he found in her. She was always likelier than not to say
the thing she thought and felt, whether it was silly and absurd, or
whether, as also happened, there was a touch of inspired significance in
it, as there is apt to be in the talk of children. She was laughed at,
but she was liked, and the freshness of her soul was pleasant to the
girls who were putting on the world as hard as they could. She could be
trusted to do and say the unexpected. But she was considered a little
morbid, and certainly she had an exaltation of the nerves that was at
times almost beyond her control.
"Oh, dear!" Miss Macroyd whispered. "What is that strange simpleton
going to do, I wonder?"
Verrian did not feel obliged to answer a question not addressed to him,
but he, too, wondered and doubted.
The girl, having got her courage together, fluttered with it from her
place round to the ghost's in a haste that expressed a fear that it might
escape her if she delayed to put it to the test. The phantom was already
there, as if it had waited her in the curiosity that followed her. They
were taking each other seriously, the girl and the ghost, and if the
ghost had been a veridical phantom, in which she could have believed with
her whole soul, the girl could not have entreated it more earnestly, more
She bent forward, in her slim, tall figure, with her hands outstretched,
and with her tender voice breaking at times in her entreaty. "Oh, I
don't know how to begin," she said, quite as if she and the phantom were
alone together, and she had forgotten its supernatural awfulness in a
sense of its human quality. "But you will understand, won't you! You'll
think it very strange, and it is very unlike the others; but if I'm going
to be serious--"
The white figure stood motionless; but Verrian interpreted its quiet as a
kindly intelligence, and the girl made a fresh start in a note a little
more piteous than before. "It's about the--the truth. Do you think if
sometimes we don't tell it exactly, but we wish we had very, very much,
it will come round somehow the same as if we had told it?"
"I don't understand," the phantom answered. "Say it again--or
"Can our repentance undo it, or make the falsehood over into the truth?"
"Never!" the ghost answered, with a passion that thrilled to Verrian's
"Oh, dear!" the girl said; and then, as if she had been going to
continue, she stopped.
"You've still got your half-question, Miss Andrews," Bushwick interposed.
"Even if we didn't mean it to deceive harmfully?" the girl pursued.
"If it was just on impulse, something we couldn't seem to help, and we
didn't see it in its true light at the time--"
The ghost made no answer. It stood motionless.
"It is offended," Bushwick said, without knowing the Shakespearian words.
"You've asked it three times half a question, Miss Andrews. Now, Mr.
Verrian, it's your turn. You can ask it just one-quarter of a question.
Miss Andrews has used up the rest of your share."
Verrian rose awkwardly and stood a long moment before his chair. Then he
dropped back again, saying, dryly, "I don't think I want to ask it
The phantom sank straight down as if sinking through the floor, but lay
there like a white shawl trailed along the bottom of the dark curtain.
"And is that all?" Miss Macroyd asked Verrian. "I was just getting up my
courage to go forward. But now, I suppose--"
"Oh, dear!" Miss Andrews called out. "Perhaps it's fainted. Hadn't we
There were formless cries from the women, and the men made a crooked rush
forward, in which Verrian did not join. He remained where he had risen,
with Miss Macroyd beside him.
"Perhaps it's only a coup de theatre!" she said, with her laugh. "Better
Bushwick was gathering the prostrate figure up. "She has fainted!" he
called. "Get some water, somebody!"
The early Monday morning train which brought Verrian up to town was so
very early that he could sit down to breakfast with his mother only a
little later than their usual hour.
She had called joyfully to him from her room, when she heard the rattling
of his key as he let himself into the apartment, and, after an exchange
of greetings, shouted back and forth before they saw each other, they
could come at once to the history of his absence over their coffee.
"You must have had a very good time, to stay so long. After you wrote
that you would not be back Thursday, I expected it would be Saturday till
I got your telegram. But I'm glad you stayed. You certainly needed the
"Yes, if those things are ever a rest." He looked down at his cup while
he stirred the coffee in it, and she studied his attitude, since she
could not see his face fully, for the secret of any vital change that
might have come upon him. It could be that in the interval since she had
seen him he had seen the woman who was to take him from her. She was
always preparing herself for that, knowing that it must come almost as
certainly as death, and knowing that with all her preparation she should
not be ready for it. "I've got rather a long story to tell you and
rather a strange story," he said, lifting his head and looking round, but
not so impersonally that his mother did not know well enough to say to
the Swedish serving-woman:
"You needn't stay, Margit. I'll give Mr. Philip his breakfast. Well!"
she added, when they were alone.
"Well," he returned, with a smile that she knew he was forcing, "I have
seen the girl that wrote that letter."
"Not Jerusha Brown?"
"Not Jerusha Brown, but the girl all the same."
"Now go on, Philip, and don't miss a single word!" she commanded him,
with an imperious breathlessness. "You know I won't hurry you or
interrupt you, but you must--you really must-tell me everything. Don't
leave out the slightest detail."
"I won't," he said. But she was aware, from time to time, that she was
keeping her word better than he was keeping his, in his account of
meeting Miss Shirley and all the following events.
"You can imagine," he said, "what a sensation the swooning made, and the
commotion that followed it."
"Yes, I can imagine that," she answered. But she was yet so faithful
that she would not ask him to go on.
He continued, unasked, "I don't know just how, now, to account for its
coming into my head that it was Miss Andrews who was my unknown
correspondent. I suppose I've always unconsciously expected to meet that
girl, and Miss Andrews's hypothetical case was psychologically so
"And I've sometimes been afraid that I judged it too harshly--that it was
a mere girlish freak without any sort of serious import."
"I was sometimes afraid so, Philip. But--"
"And I don't believe now that the hypothetical case brought any
intolerable stress of conscience upon Miss Shirley, or that she fainted
from any cause but exhaustion from the general ordeal. She was still
weak from the sickness she had been through--too weak to bear the strain
of the work she had taken up. Of course, the catastrophe gave the whole
surface situation away, and I must say that those rather banal young
people behaved very humanely about it. There was nothing but interest of
the nicest kind, and, if she is going on with her career, it will be easy
enough for her to find engagements after this."
"Why shouldn't she go on?" his mother asked, with a suspicion which she
kept well out of sight.
"Well, as well as she could explain afterwards, the catastrophe took her
work out of the category of business and made her acceptance in it a
matter of sentiment."
"She explained it to you herself?"
"Yes, the general sympathy had penetrated to Mrs. Westangle, though I
don't say that she had been more than negatively indifferent to Miss
Shirley's claim on her before. As it was, she sent for me to her room
the next morning, and I found Miss Shirley alone there. She said Mrs.
Westangle would be down in a moment."
Now, indeed, Mrs. Verrian could not govern herself from saying, "I don't
like it, Philip."
"I knew you wouldn't. It was what I said to myself at the time. You
were so present with me that I seemed to have you there chaperoning the
interview." His mother shrugged, and he went on: "She said she wished to
tell me something first, and then she said, 'I want to do it while I have
the courage, if it's courage; perhaps it's just desperation. I am
His mother began, "But you said--" and then stopped herself.
"I know that I said she wasn't, but she explained, while I sat there
rather mum, that there was really another girl, and that the other girl's
name was really Jerusha Brown. She was the daughter of the postmaster in
the village where Miss Shirley was passing the summer. In fact, Miss
Shirley was boarding in the postmaster's family, and the girls had become
very friendly. They were reading my story together, and talking about
it, and trying to guess how it would come out, just as the letter said,
and they simultaneously hit upon the notion of writing to me. It seemed
to them that it would be a good joke--I'm not defending it, mother, and I
must say Miss Shirley didn't defend it, either--to work upon my feelings
in the way they tried, and they didn't realize what they had done till
Armiger's letter came. It almost drove them wild, she said; but they had
a lucid interval, and they took the letter to the girl's father and told
him what they had done. He was awfully severe with them for their
foolishness, and said they must write to Armiger at once and confess the
fact. Then they said they had written already, and showed him the second
letter, and explained they had decided to let Miss Brawn write it in her
person alone for the reason she gave in it. But Miss Shirley told him
she was ready to take her full share of the blame, and, if anything came
of it, she authorized him to put the whole blame on her."
Verrian made a pause which his mother took for invitation or permission
to ask, "And was he satisfied with that?"
"I don't know. I wasn't, and it's only just to Miss Shirley to say that
she wasn't, either. She didn't try to justify it to me; she merely said
she was so frightened that she couldn't have done anything. She may have
realized more than the Brown girl what they had done."
"The postmaster, did he regard it as anything worse than foolishness?"
"I don't believe he did. At any rate, he was satisfied with what his
daughter had done in owning up."
"Well, I always liked that girl's letter. And did they show him your
"It seems that they did."
"And what did he say about that?"
"I suppose, what I deserved. Miss Shirley wouldn't say, explicitly. He
wanted to answer it, but they wouldn't let him. I don't know but I
should feel better if he had. I haven't been proud of that letter of
mine as time has gone on, mother; I think I behaved very narrow-mindedly,
very personally in it."
"You behaved justly."
"Justly? I thought you had your doubts of that. At any rate, I had when
it came to hearing the girl accusing herself as if she had been guilty of
some monstrous wickedness, and I realized that I had made her feel so."
"She threw herself on your pity!"
"No, she didn't, mother. Don't make it impossible for me to tell you
just how it was."
"I won't. Go on."
"I don't say she was manly about it; that couldn't be, but she was
certainly not throwing herself on my pity, unless--unless--"
"Unless you call it so for her to say that she wanted to own up to me,
because she could have no rest till she had done so; she couldn't put it
behind her till she had acknowledged it; she couldn't work; she couldn't
He saw his mother trying to consider it fairly, and in response he
renewed his own resolution not to make himself the girl's advocate with
her, but to continue the dispassionate historian of the case. At the
same time his memory was filled with the vision of how she had done and
said the things he was telling, with what pathos, with what grace, with
what beauty in her appeal. He saw the tears that came into her eyes at
times and that she indignantly repressed as she hurried on in the
confession which she was voluntarily making, for there was no outward
stress upon her to say anything. He felt again the charm of the
situation, the sort of warmth and intimacy, but he resolved not to let
that feeling offset the impartiality of his story.
"No, I don't say she threw herself on your mercy," his mother said,
finally. "She needn't have told you anything."
"Except for the reason she gave--that she couldn't make a start for
herself till she had done so. And she has got her own way to make; she
is poor. Of course, you may say her motive was an obsession, and not a
"There's reality in it, whatever it is; it's a genuine motive," Mrs.
"I think so," Verrian said, in a voice which he tried to keep from
sounding too grateful.
Apparently his mother did not find it so. She asked, "What had been the
matter with her, did she say?"
"In her long sickness? Oh! A nervous fever of some sort."
"From worrying about that experience?"
Verrian reluctantly admitted, "She said it made her want to die. I don't
suppose we can quite realize--"
"We needn't believe everything she said to realize that she suffered.
But girls exaggerate their sufferings. I suppose you told her not to
think of it any more?"
Verrian gave an odd laugh. "Well, not unconditionally. I tried to give
her my point of view. And I stipulated that she should tell Jerusha
Brown all about it, and keep her from having a nervous fever, too."
"That was right. You must see that even cowardice couldn't excuse her
selfishness in letting that girl take all the chances."
"And I'm afraid I was not very unselfish myself in my stipulations,"
Verrian said, with another laugh. "I think that I wanted to stand well
with the postmaster."
There was a note of cynical ease in this which Mrs. Verrian found morally
some octaves lower than the pitch of her son's habitual seriousness in
what concerned himself, but she could not make it a censure to him. "And
you were able to reassure her, so that she needn't think of it any more?"
"What would you have wished me to do?" he returned, dryly. "Don't you
think she had suffered enough?"
"Oh, in this sort of thing it doesn't seem the question of suffering.
If there's wrong done the penalty doesn't right it."
The notion struck Verrian's artistic sense. "That's true. That would
make the 'donnee' of a strong story. Or a play. It's a drama of fate.
It's Greek. But I thought we lived under another dispensation."
"Will she try to get more of the kind of thing she was doing for Mrs.
Westangle at once? Or has she some people?"
"No; only friends, as I understand."
"Where is she from? Up country?"
"No, she's from the South."
"I don't like Southerners!"
"I know you don't, mother. But you must honor the way they work and get
on when they come North and begin doing for themselves. Besides, Miss
Shirley's family went South after the war--"
"Oh, not even a REAL Southerner!"
"I know! I'm not fair. I ought to beg her pardon. And I ought to be
glad it's all over. Shall you see her again?"
"It might happen. But I don't know how or when. We parted friends, but
we parted strangers, so far as any prevision of the future is concerned,"
His mother drew a long breath, which she tried to render inaudible.
"And the girl that asked her the strange questions, did you see her
"Oh yes. She had a curious fascination. I should like to tell you about
her. Do you think there's such a thing as a girl's being too innocent?"
"It isn't so common as not being innocent enough."
"But it's more difficult?"
"I hope you'll never find it so, my son," Mrs. Verrian said. And for the
first time she was intentionally personal. "Go on."
"About Miss Andrews?"
"Whichever you please."
"She waylaid me in the afternoon, as I was coming home from a walk, and
wanted to talk with me about Miss Shirley."
"I suppose Miss Shirley was the day's heroine after what had happened?"
"The half-day's, or quarter-day's heroine, perhaps. She left on the
church train for town yesterday morning soon after I saw her. Miss
Andrews seemed to think I was an authority on the subject, and she
approached me with a large-eyed awe that was very amusing, though it was
affecting, too. I suppose that girls must have many worships for other
girls before they have any worship for a man. This girl couldn't
separate Miss Shirley, on the lookout for another engagement, from the
psychical part she had played. She raved about her; she thought she was
beautiful, and she wanted to know all about her and how she could help
her. Miss Andrews's parents are rich but respectable, I understand, and
she's an only child. I came in for a share of her awe; she had found out
that I was not only not Verrian the actor, but an author of the same
name, and she had read my story with passionate interest, but apparently
in that unliterary way of many people without noticing who wrote it; she
seemed to have thought it was Harding Davis or Henry James; she wasn't
clear which. But it was a good deal to have had her read it at all in
that house; I don't believe anybody else had, except Miss Shirley and
Mrs. Verrian deferred a matter that would ordinarily have interested her
supremely to an immediate curiosity. "And how came she to think you
would know so much about Miss Shirley?"
Verrian frowned. "I think from Miss Macroyd. Miss Macroyd seems to have
taken a grandmotherly concern in my affairs through the whole week.
Perhaps she resented having behaved so piggishly at the station the day
we came, and meant to take it out of Miss Shirley and myself. She had
seen us together in the woods, one day, and she must have told it about.
Mrs. Westangle wouldn't have spoken of us together, because she never
speaks of anything unless it is going to count; and there was no one else
who knew of our acquaintance."
"Why, my son, if you went walking in the woods with the girl, any one
might have seen you."
"I didn't. It was quite by accident that we met there. Miss Shirley was
anxious to keep her presence in the house a secret from everybody."
Mrs. Verrian would not take any but the open way, with this. She would
not deal indirectly, with it, or in any wise covertly or surreptitiously.
"It seems to me that Miss Shirley has rather a fondness for secrecy," she
"I think she has," Verrian admitted. "Though, in this case, it was
essential to the success of her final scheme. But she is a curious
study. I suppose that timidity is at the bottom of all fondness for
secrecy, isn't it?"
"I don't know. She doesn't seem to be timid in everything."
"Say it out, mother!" Verrian challenged her with a smile. "You're not
"She had the courage to join in that letter, but not the courage to own
her part in it. She was brave enough to confess that she had been sick
of a nervous fever from the answer you wrote to the Brown girl, but she
wouldn't have been brave enough to confess anything at all if she had
believed she would be physically or morally strong enough to keep it."
"Perhaps nobody--nobody but you, mother--is brave in the right time and
She knew that this was not meant in irony. "I am glad you say that,
"It's only your due. But aren't you a little too hard upon cowards, at
times? For the sort of person she is, if you infer the sort from the
worst appearance she has made in the whole business, I think she has done
"Why had she left the Brown girl to take all your resentment alone for
the last six or eight months?"
"She may have thought that she was getting her share of the punishment in
the fever my resentment brought on?"
"Philip, do you really believe that her fever, if she had one, came from
"I think she believes it, and there's no doubt but she was badly scared."
"Oh, there's no doubt of that!"
"But come, mother, why should we take her at the worst? Of course, she
has a complex nature. I see that as clearly as you do. I don't believe
we look at her diversely, in the smallest particular. But why shouldn't
a complex nature be credited with the same impulses towards the truth as
a single nature? Why shouldn't we allow that Miss Shirley had the same
wish to set herself right with me as Miss Andrews would have had in her
"I dare say she wished to set herself right with you, but not from the
same wish that Miss Andrews would have had. Miss Andrews would not have
wished you to know the truth for her own sake. Her motive would have
"Yes; and we will describe her as a straight line, and Miss Shirley as a
waving line. Why shouldn't the waving line, at its highest points, touch
the same altitude as the straight line?"
"It wouldn't touch it all the time, and in character, or nature, as you
call it, that is the great thing. It's at the lowest points that the
waving line is dangerous."
"Well, I don't deny that. But I'm anxious to be just to a person who
hasn't experienced a great deal of mercy for what, after all, wasn't such
a very heinous thing as I used to think it. You must allow that she
wasn't obliged to tell me anything about herself."
"Yes, she was, Philip. As I said before, she hadn't the physical or
moral strength to keep it from you when she was brought face to face with
you. Besides--" Mrs. Verrian hesitated.
"Out with it, mother! We, at least, won't have any concealments."
"She may have thought, she could clinch it in that way."
"You know. Is she pretty?"
"That can always be managed. Is she tall?"
"NO, I think she's rather out of style there; she's rather petite."
"And what's her face like?"
"Well, she has no particular complexion, but it's not thick. Her eyes
are the best of her, though there isn't much of them. They're the
'waters on a starry night' sort, very sweet and glimmering. She has a
kind of ground-colored hair and a nice little chin. Her mouth helps her
eyes out; it looks best when she speaks; it's pathetic in the play of the
"I see," Mrs. Verrian said.
The following week Verrian and his mother were at a show of paintings, in
the gallery at the rear of a dealer's shop, and while they were bending
together to look at a picture he heard himself called to in a girlish
voice, "Oh, Mr. Verrian!" as if his being there was the greatest wonder
in the world.
His mother and he lifted themselves to encounter a tall, slim girl, who
was stretching her hand towards him, and who now cried out, joyously,
"Oh, Mr. Verrian, I thought it must be you, but I was afraid it wasn't as
soon as I spoke. Oh, I'm so glad to see you; I want so much to have you
know my mother--Mr. Verrian," she said, presenting him.
"And I you mine," Verrian responded, in a violent ellipse, and introduced
his own mother, who took in the fact of Miss Andrews's tall thinness,
topped with a wide, white hat and waving white plumes, and her little
face, irregular and somewhat gaunt, but with a charm in the lips and eyes
which took the elder woman's heart with pathos. She made talk with Mrs.
Andrews, who affected one as having the materials of social severity in
her costume and manner.
"Oh, I didn't believe I should ever see you again," the girl broke out
impulsively upon Verrian. "Oh, I wanted to ask you so about Miss
Shirley. Have you seen her since you got back?"
"No," Verrian said, "I haven't seen her."
"Oh, I thought perhaps you had. I've been to the address that Mrs.
Westangle gave me, but she isn't there any more; she's gone up into
Harlem somewhere, and I haven't been able to call again. Oh, I do feel
so anxious about her. Oh, I do hope she isn't ill. Do you think she
"I don't believe so," Verrian began. But she swept over his prostrate
"Oh, Mr. Verrian, don't you think she's wonderful? I've been telling
mother about it, and I don't feel at all the way she does. Do you?"
"How does she feel? I must know that before I say."
"Why, of course! I hadn't told you! She thinks it was a make-up between
Miss Shirley and that Mr. Bushwick. But I say it couldn't have been. Do
you think it could?"
Verrian found the suggestion so distasteful, for a reason which he did
not quite seize himself, that he answered, resentfully, "It could have
been, but I don't think it was."
"I will tell her what you say. Oh, may I tell her what you say?"
"I don't see why you shouldn't. It isn't very important, either way, is
"Oh, don't you think so? Not if it involved pretending what wasn't
She bent towards him in such anxious demand that he could not help
"The whole thing was a pretence, wasn't it?" he suggested.
"Yes, but that would have been a pretence that we didn't know of."
"It would be incriminating to that extent, certainly," Verrian owned,
ironically. He found the question of Miss Shirley's blame for the
collusion as distasteful as the supposition of the collusion, but there
was a fascination in the innocence before him, and he could not help
playing with it.
Sometimes Miss Andrews apparently knew that he was playing with her
innocence, and sometimes she did not. But in either case she seemed to
like being his jest, from which she snatched a fearful joy. She was
willing to prolong the experience, and she drifted with him from picture
to picture, and kept the talk recurrently to Miss Shirley and the
phenomena of Seeing Ghosts.
Her mother and Mrs. Verrian evidently got on together better than either
of them at first expected. When it came to their parting, through Mrs.
Andrews's saying that she must be going, she shook hands with Mrs.
Verrian and said to Philip, "I am so glad to have met you, Mr. Verrian.
Will you come and see us?"
"Yes, thank you," he answered, taking the hand she now offered him, and
then taking Miss Andrews's hand, while the girl's eyes glowed with
pleasure. "I shall be very glad."
"Oh, shall you?" she said, with her transparent sincerity. "And you
won't forget Thursdays! But any day at five we have tea."
"Thank you," Verrian said. "I might forget the Thursdays, but I couldn't
forget all the days of the week."
Miss Andrews laughed and blushed at once. "Then we shall expect you
"Well, every day but Thursday," he promised.
When the mother and daughter had gone Mrs. Verrian said, "She is a great
admirer of yours, Philip. She's read your story, and I suspect she wants
an opportunity to talk with you about it."
"You mean Mrs. Andrews?"
"Yes. I suppose the daughter hasn't waited for an opportunity. The
mother had read that publisher's paragraph about your invalid, and wanted
to know if you had ever heard from her again. Women are personal in
their literary interests."
Philip asked, in dismay, "You didn't give it away did you, mother?"
"Certainly not, my dear. You have brought me up too carefully."
"Of course. I didn't imagine you had."
Then, as they could not pretend to look at the pictures any longer, they
went away, too. Their issue into the open air seemed fraught with novel
emotion for Mrs. Verrian. "Well, now," she said, "I have seen the woman
I would be willing my son should marry."
"Child, you mean," Philip said, not pretending that he did not know she
meant Miss Andrews.
"That girl," his mother returned, "is innocence itself. Oh, Philip,
dear, do marry her!"
"Well, I don't know. If her mother is behaving as sagely with her as you
are with me the chances are that she won't let me. Besides, I don't know
that I want to marry quite so much innocence."
"She is conscience incarnate," his mother uttered, perfervidly.
"You could put your very soul in her keeping."
"Then you would be out of a job, mother."
"Oh, I am not worthy of the job, my dear. I have always felt that. I am
too complex, and sometimes I can't see the right alone, as she could."
Philip was silent a moment while he lost the personal point of view.
"I suspect we don't see the right when we see it alone. We ought to see
the wrong, too."
"Ah, Philip, don't let your fancy go after that girl!"
"Miss Andrews? I thought--"
"Don't you be complex, my dear. You know I mean Miss Shirley. What has
become of her, I wonder. I heard Miss Andrews asking you."
"I wasn't able to tell her. Do you want me to try telling you?"
"I would rather you never could."
Philip laughed sardonically. "Now, I shall forget Thursdays and all the
other days, too. You are a very unwise parent, mother."
They laughed with each other at each other, and treated her enthusiasm
for Miss Andrews as the joke it partly was. Mrs. Verrian did not follow
him up about her idol, and a week or so later she was able to affect a
decent surprise when he came in at the end of an afternoon and declined
the cup of tea she proposed on the ground that he had been taking a cup
of tea with the Andrewses. "You have really been there?"
"Didn't you expect me to keep my promise?"
"But I was afraid I had put a stumbling-block in the way."
"Oh, I found I could turn the consciousness you created in me into
literary material, and so I was rather eager to go. I have got a point
for my new story out of it. I shall have my fellow suffer all I didn't
suffer in meeting the girl he knows his mother wants him to marry. I got
on very well with those ladies. Mrs. Andrews is the mother of innocence,
but she isn't innocence. She managed to talk of my story without asking
about the person who wanted to anticipate the conclusion. That was what
you call complex. She was insincere; it was the only thing she wanted to
"I don't believe it, Philip. But what did Miss Andrews talk about?"
"Well, she is rather an optimistic conscience. She talked about books
and plays that some people do not think are quite proper. I have a
notion that, where the point involved isn't a fact of her own experience,
she is not very severe about it. You think that would be quite safe for
"Philip, I don't like your making fun of her!"
"Oh, she wasn't insipid; she was only limpid. I really like her, and,
as for reverencing her, of course I feel that in a way she is sacred."
He added, after a breath, "Too sacred. We none of us can expect to
marry Eve before the Fall now; perhaps we have got over wanting to."
"You are very perverse, my dear. But you will get over that."
"Don't take away my last defence, mother."
Verrian began to go rather regularly to the Andrews house, or, at least,
he was accused of doing it by Miss Macroyd when, very irregularly, he
went one day to see her. "How did you know it?" he asked.
"I didn't say I knew it. I only wished to know it. Now I am satisfied.
I met another friend of yours on Sunday." She paused for him to ask who;
but he did not ask. "I see you are dying to know what friend: Mr.
"Oh, he's a good-fellow. I wonder I don't run across him."
"Perhaps that's because you never call on Miss Shirley." Miss Macroyd
waited for this to take effect, but he kept a glacial surface towards
her, and she went on:
"They were walking together in the park at noon. I suppose they had been
to church together."
Verrian manifested no more than a polite interest in the fact. He
managed so well that he confirmed Miss Macroyd in a tacit conjecture.
She went on: "Miss Shirley was looking quite blooming for her. But so
was he, for that matter. Why don't you ask if they inquired for you?"
"I thought you would tell me without."
"I will tell you if he did. He was very cordial in his inquiries; and I
had to pretend, to gratify him, that you were very well. I implied that
you came here every Tuesday, but your Thursdays were dedicated to Miss
"You are a clever woman, Miss Macroyd. I should never have thought of so
much to say on such an uninteresting subject. And Miss Shirley showed no
"Ah, she is a clever woman, too. She showed the prettiest kind of
curiosity--so perfectly managed. She has a studio--I don't know just how
she puts it to use--with a painter girl in one of those studio apartment
houses on the West Side: The Veronese, I believe. You must go and see
her; I'll let you have next Tuesday off; Tuesday's her day, too."
"You are generosity itself, Miss Macroyd."
"Yes, there's nothing mean about me," she returned, in slang rather older
than she ordinarily used. "If you're not here next Tuesday I shall know
where you are."
"Then I must take a good many Tuesdays off, unless I want to give myself
"Oh, don't do that, Mr. Verrian! Please! Or else I can't let you have
any Tuesday off."
Upon the whole, Verrian thought he would go to see Miss Shirley the next
Tuesday, but he did not say so to Miss Macroyd. Now that he knew where
the girl was, all the peculiar interest she had inspired in him renewed
itself. It was so vivid that he could not pay his usual Thursday call at
Miss Andrews's, and it filled his mind to the exclusion of the new story
he had begun to write. He loafed his mornings away at his club, and he
lunched there, leaving his mother to lunch alone, and was dreamily
preoccupied in the evenings which he spent at home, sitting at his desk,
with the paper before him, unable to coax the thoughts from his brain to
its alluring blank, but restive under any attempts of hers to talk with
In his desperation he would have gone to the theatre, but the fact that
the ass who rightfully called himself Verrian was playing at one of them
blocked his way, through his indignation, to all of them. By Saturday
afternoon the tedious time had to be done something with, and he decided
to go and see what the ass was like.
He went early, and found himself in the end seat of a long row of many
rows of women, who were prolonging the time of keeping their hats on till
custom obliged them to take them off. He gave so much notice to the
woman next him as to see that she was deeply veiled as well as widely
hatted, and then he lapsed into a dreary muse, which was broken by the
first strains of the overture. Then he diverted himself by looking round
at all those ranks of women lifting their arms to take out them hat-pins
and dropping them to pin their hats to the seat-backs in front of them,
or to secure them somehow in their laps. Upon the whole, he thought the
manoeuvre graceful and pleasing; he imagined a consolation in it for the
women, who, if they were forced by public opinion to put off their
charming hats, would know how charmingly they did it. Each turned a
little, either her body or her head, and looked in any case out of the
corner of her eyes; and he was phrasing it all for a scene in his story,
when he looked round at his neighbor to see how she had managed, or was
managing, with her veil. At the same moment she looked at him, and their
The stress of their voices fell upon different parts of the sentences
they uttered, but did not commit either of them to a special role.
"How very strange we should meet here!" she said, with pleasure in her
voice. "Do you know, I have been wanting to come all winter to see this
man, on account of his name? And to think that I should meet the other
Mr. Verrian as soon as I yielded to the temptation."
"I have just yielded myself," Verrian said. "I hope you don't feel
punished for yielding."
"Oh, dear, no! It seems a reward."
She did not say why it seemed so, and he suggested, "The privilege of
comparing the histrionic and the literary Verrian?"
"Could there be any comparison?" she came back, gayly.
"I don't know. I haven't seen the histrionic Verrian yet."
They were laughing when the curtain rose, and the histrionic Verrian had
his innings for a long, long first act. When the curtain fell she turned
to the literary Verrian and said, "Well?"
"He lasted a good while," Verrian returned.
"Yes. Didn't he?" She looked at the little watch in her wristlet.
"A whole hour! Do you know, Mr. Verrian, I am going to seem very rude.
I am going to leave you to settle this question of superiority; I know
you'll be impartial. I have an appointment--with the dressmaker, to be
specific--at half-past four, and it's half-past three now, and I couldn't
well leave in the middle of the next act. So I will say good-bye now--"
"Don't!" he entreated. "I couldn't bear to be left alone with this
dreadful double of mine. Let me go out with you."
"Can I accept such self-sacrifice? Well!"
She had put on her hat and risen, and he now stepped out of his place to
let her pass and then followed her. At the street entrance he suggested,
"A hansom, or a simple trolley?"
"I don't know," she murmured, meditatively, looking up the street as if
that would settle it. "If it's only half-past three now, I should have
time to get home more naturally."
"Oh! And will you let me walk with you?"
"Why, if you're going that way."
"I will say when I know which way it is."
They started on their walk so blithely that they did not sadden in the
retrospect of their joint experiences at Mrs. Westangle's. By the time
they reached the park gate at Columbus Circle they had come so distinctly
to the end of their retrospect that she made an offer of letting him
leave her, a very tacit offer, but unmistakable, if he chose to take it.
He interpreted her hesitation as he chose. "No," he said, "it won't be
any longer if we go up through the park."
She drew in her breath softly, smoothing down her muff with her right
hand while she kept her left in it. "And it will certainly be
pleasanter." When they were well up the path, in that part of it where
it deflects from the drive without approaching the street too closely,
and achieves something of seclusion, she said:
"Your speaking of him just now makes me want to tell you something, Mr.
Verrian. You would hear of it very soon, anyway, and I feel that it is
always best to be very frank with you; but you'll regard it as a secret
till it comes out."
The currents that had been playing so warmly in and out of Verrian's
heart turned suddenly cold. He said, with joyless mocking, "You know,
I'm used to keeping your secrets. I--shall feel honored, I'm sure, if
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