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 arrival.
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 for me."
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 you?"
"Oh yes, but I was too proud to change by that time. Or perhaps I hated the trouble."
Miss Macroyd laughed the more; then she purposely darkened her countenance so as to suit it to her lugubrious whisper, "How did she get here?"
"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 longer.
"Am I?" he questioned; thoughtfully. "Well, then, I am tempted to act upon impulse."
"Oh, do act upon impulse for once," she urged. "I'm sure you'll enjoy it."
"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."