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Chapter 8

At Southfield, where they all descended, Miss Macroyd promptly possessed herself of a groom, who came forward tentatively, touching his hat. "Miss Macroyd?" she suggested.

"Yes, miss," the man said, and led the way round the station to the victoria which, when Miss Macroyd's maid had mounted to the place beside her, had no room; for any one else.

Verrian accounted for her activity upon the theory of her quite justifiable wish not to arrive at Seasands with a young man whom she might then have the effect of having voluntarily come all the way with; and after one or two circuits of the station it was apparent to him that he was not to have been sent for from Mrs. Westangle's, but to have been left to the chances of the local drivers and their vehicles. These were reduced to a single carryall and a frowsy horse whose rough winter coat recalled the aspect of his species in the period following the glacial epoch. The mud, as of a world-thaw, encrusted the wheels and curtains of the carryall.

Verrian seized upon it and then went into the waiting-room, where he had left his suit-case. He found the stranger there in parley with the young woman in the ticket-office about a conveyance to Mrs. Westangle's. It proved that he had secured not only the only thing of the sort, but the only present hope of any other, and in the hard case he could not hesitate with distress so interesting. It would have been brutal to drive off and leave that girl there, and it would have been a vulgar flourish to put the entire vehicle at her service. Besides, and perhaps above all, Verrian had no idea of depriving himself of such a chance as heaven seemed to offer him.

He advanced with the delicacy of the highest-bred hero he could imagine, and said, "I am going to Mrs. Westangle's, and I'm afraid I've got the only conveyance—such as it is. If you would let me offer you half of it? Mr. Verrian," he added, at the light of acceptance instantly kindling in her face, which flushed thinly, as with an afterglow of invalidism.

"Why, thank you; I'm afraid I must, Mr. Merriam," and Verrian was aware of being vexed at her failure to catch his name; the name of Verrian ought to have been unmistakable. "The young lady in the office says there won't be another, and I'm expected promptly." She added, with a little tremor of the lip, "I don't understand why Mrs. Westangle—" But then she stopped.

Verrian interpreted for her: "The sea-horses must have given out at Seasands. Or probably there's some mistake," and he reflected bitterly upon the selfishness of Miss Macroyd in grabbing that victoria for herself and her maid, not considering that she could not know, and has no business to ask, whether this girl was going to Mrs. Westangle's, too. "Have you a check?" he asked. "I think our driver could find room for something besides my valise. Or I could have it come—"

"Not at all," the girl said. "I sent my trunk ahead by express."

A frowsy man, to match the frowsy horse, looked in impatiently. "Any other baggage?"

"No," Verrian answered, and he led the way out after the vanishing driver. "Our chariot is back here in hiding, Miss—"

"Shirley," she said, and trailed before him through the door he opened.

He felt that he did not do it as a man of the world would have done it, and in putting her into the ramshackle carryall he knew that he had not the grace of the sort of man who does nothing else. But Miss Shirley seemed to have grace enough, of a feeble and broken sort, for both, and he resolved to supply his own lack with sincerity. He therefore set his jaw firmly and made its upper angles jut sharply through his clean-shaven cheeks. It was well that Miss Shirley had some beauty to spare, too, for Verrian had scarcely enough for himself. Such distinction as he had was from a sort of intellectual tenseness which showed rather in the gaunt forms of his face than in the gray eyes, heavily lashed above and below, and looking serious but dull with their rank, black brows. He was chewing a cud of bitterness in the accusal he made himself of having forced Miss Shirley to give her name; but with that interesting personality at his side, under the same tattered and ill-scented Japanese goat-skin, he could not refuse to be glad, with all his self-blame.

"I'm afraid it's rather a long drive-for you, Miss Shirley," he ventured, with a glance at her face, which looked very little under her hat. "The driver says it's five miles round through the marshes."

"Oh, I shall not mind," she said, courageously, if not cheerfully, and he did not feel authorized further to recognize the fact that she was an invalid, or at best a convalescent.

"These wintry tree-forms are fine, though," he found himself obliged to conclude his apology, rather irrelevantly, as the wheels of the rattling, and tilting carry all crunched the surface of the road in the succession of jerks responding to the alternate walk and gallop of the horse.

"Yes, they are," Miss Shirley answered, looking around with a certain surprise, as if seeing them now for the first time. "So much variety of color; and that burnished look that some of them have." The trees, far and near, were giving their tones and lustres in the low December sun.

"Yes," he said, "it's decidedly more refined than the autumnal coloring we brag of."

"It is," she approved, as with novel conviction. "The landscape is really beautiful. So nice and flat," she added.

He took her intention, and he said, as he craned his neck out of the carryall to include the nearer roadside stretches, with their low bushes lifting into remoter trees, "It's restful in a way that neither the mountains nor the sea, quite manage."

"Oh yes," she sighed, with a kind of weariness which explained itself in what she added: "It's the kind of thing you'd like to have keep on and on." She seemed to say that more to herself than to him, and his eyes questioned her. She smiled slightly in explaining: "I suppose I find it all the more beautiful because this is my first real look into the world after six months indoors."

"Oh!" he said, and there was no doubt a prompting in his tone.

She smiled still. "Sick people are terribly, egotistical, and I suppose it's my conceit of having been the centre of the universe so lately that makes me mention it." And here she laughed a little at herself, showing a charming little peculiarity in the catch of her upper lip on her teeth. "But this is divine—this air and this sight." She put her head out of her side of the carryall, and drank them in with her lungs and eyes.

When she leaned back again on the seat she said, "I can't get enough of it."

"But isn't this old rattletrap rather too rough for you?" he asked.

"Oh no," she said, visiting him with a furtive turn of her eyes. "It's quite ideally what invalids in easy circumstances are advised to take carriage exercise."

"Yes, it's certainly carriage exercise," Verrian admitted in the same spirit, if it was a drolling spirit. He could not help being amused by the situation in which they had been brought together, through the vigorous promptitude of Miss Macroyd in making the victoria her own, and the easy indifference of Mrs. Westangle as to how they should get to her house. If he had been alone he might have felt the indifference as a slight, but as it was he felt it rather a favor. If Miss Shirley was feeling it a slight, she was too secret or too sweet to let it be known, and he thought that was nice of her. Still, he believed he might recognize the fact without deepening a possible hurt of hers, and he added, with no apparent relevance, "If Mrs. Westangle was not looking for us on this train, she will find that it is the unexpected which happens."

"We are certainly going to happen," the girl said, with an acceptance of the plural which deepened the intimacy of the situation, and which was not displeasing to Verrian when she added, "If our friend's vehicle holds out." Then she turned her face full upon him, with what affected him as austere resolution, in continuing, "But I can't let you suppose that you're conveying a society person, or something of that sort, to Mrs. Westangle's." His own face expressed his mystification, and she concluded, "I'm simply going there to begin my work."

He smiled provisionally in temporizing with the riddle. "You women are wonderful, nowadays, for the work you do."

"Oh, but," she protested, nervously, anxiously, "it isn't good work that I'm going to do—I understand what you mean—it's work for a living. I've no business to be arriving with an invited guest, but it seemed to be a question of arriving or not at the time when I was due."

William Dean Howells

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