His impulse really had failed him. It had been to tell Miss Macroyd about his adventure and frankly trust her with it. He had liked her at several former meetings rather increasingly, because she had seemed open and honest beyond the most of women, but her piggish behavior at the station had been rather too open and honest, and the sense of this now opportunely intervened between him and the folly he was about to commit. Besides, he had no right to give Miss Shirley's part in his adventure away, and, since the affair was more vitally hers than his, to take it at all out of her hands. The early-falling dusk had favored an unnoticed advent for them, and there were other chances that had helped keep unknown their arrival together at Mrs. Westangle's in that squalid carryall, such as Miss Shirley's having managed instantly to slip indoors before the man came out for Verrian's suit-case, and of her having got to her own appointed place long before there was any descent of the company to the afternoon tea.
It was not for him now to undo all that and begin the laughing at the affair, which she had pathetically intimated that she would rather some one else should begin. He recoiled from his imprudence with a shock, but he had the pleasure of having mystified Miss Macroyd. He felt dismissal in the roving eye which she cast from him round the room, and he willingly let another young man replace him at her side.
Yet he was not altogether satisfied. A certain meaner self that there was in him was not pleased with his relegation even merely in his own consciousness to the championship of a girl who was going to make her living in a sort of menial way. It had better be owned for him that, in his visions of literary glory, he had figured in social triumphs which, though vague, were resplendent with the glitter of smart circles. He had been so ignorant of such circles as to suppose they would have some use for him as a brilliant young author; and though he was outwearing this illusion, he still would not have liked a girl like Julia Macroyd, whose family, if not smart, was at least chic, to know that he had come to the house with a professional mistress of the revels, until Miss Shirley should have approved herself chic, too. The notion of such an employment as hers was in itself chic, but the girl was merely a paid part of the entertainment, as yet, and had not risen above the hireling status. If she had sunk to that level from a higher rank it would be all right, but there was no evidence that she had ever been smart. Verrian would, therefore, rather not be mixed up with her—at any rate, in the imagination of a girl like Julia Macroyd; and as he left her side he drew a long breath of relief and went and put down his teacup where he had got it.
By this time the girl who was "pouring" had exhausted one of the two original guards on whom she had been dividing her vision, and Verrian made a pretence, which she favored, that he had come up to push the man away. The man gracefully submitted to be dislodged, and Verrian remained in the enjoyment of one of the girl's distorted eyes till, yet another man coming up, she abruptly got rid of Verrian by presenting him to yet another girl. In such manoeuvres the hour of afternoon tea will pass; and the time really wore on till it was time to dress for dinner.
By the time that the guests came down to dinner they were all able to participate in the exchange of the discovery which each had made, that it was snowing outdoors, and they kept this going till one girl had the good-luck to say, "I don't see anything so astonishing in that at this time of year. Now, if it was snowing indoors, it would be different."
This relieved the tension in a general laugh, and a young man tried to contribute further to the gayety by declaring that it would not be surprising to have it snow in-doors. He had once seen the thing done in a crowded hall, one night, when somebody put up a window, and the freezing current of air congealed the respiration of the crowd, which came down in a light fall of snow-flakes. He owned that it was in Boston.
"Oh, that excuses it, then," Miss Macroyd said. But she lost the laugh which was her due in the rush which some of the others made to open a window and see whether it could be made to snow in-doors there.
"Oh, it isn't crowded enough here," the young man explained who had alleged the scientific marvel.
"And it isn't Boston," Miss Macroyd tried again on the same string, and this time she got her laugh.
The girl who had first spoken remained, at the risk of pneumonia, with her arm prettily lifted against the open sash, for a moment peering out, and then reported, in dashing it down with a shiver, "It seems to be a very soft snow."
"Then it will be rain by morning," another predicted, and the girl tried hard to think of something to say in support of the hit she had made already. But she could not, and was silent almost through the whole first course at dinner.
In spite of its being a soft snow, it continued to fall as snow and not as rain. It lent the charm of stormy cold without to the brightness and warmth within. Much later, when between waltzes some of the dancers went out on the verandas for a breath of air, they came back reporting that the wind was rising and the snow was drifting.
Upon the whole, the snow was a great success, and her guests congratulated Mrs. Westangle on having thought to have it. The felicitations included recognition of the originality of her whole scheme. She had downed the hoary superstition that people had too much of a good time on Christmas to want any good time at all in the week following; and in acting upon the well-known fact that you never wanted a holiday so much as the day after you had one, she had made a movement of the highest social importance. These were the ideas which Verrian and the young man of the in-doors snow-storm urged upon her; his name was Bushwick, and he and Verrian found that they were very good-fellows after they had rather supposed the contrary.
Mrs. Westangle received their ideas with the twittering reticence that deceived so many people when they supposed she knew what they were talking about.