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Chapter 20

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 is?"

"I don't believe so," Verrian began. But she swept over his prostrate remark.

"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 it?"

"Oh, don't you think so? Not if it involved pretending what wasn't true?"

She bent towards him in such anxious demand that he could not help smiling.

"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 every day."

"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 talk about."

"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 me?"

"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. Bushwick."

"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 Andrews."

"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 curiosity?"

"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 away."

"Oh, don't do that, Mr. Verrian! Please! Or else I can't let you have any Tuesday off."

William Dean Howells

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