Verrian answered with light cynicism: “It will be tainted with the pain of the fellows who don’t like me, or who haven’t succeeded, and they’ll take care to let me share their pain if ever they can. But if you mean that merry maiden up country, she’s probably thinking, if she thinks about it at all, that she’s the luckiest girl in the United States to have got out of an awful scrape so easily. At the worst, I only had fun with her in my letter. Probably she sees that she has nothing to grieve for but her own break.”
“No, and you did just as you should have done; and I am glad you don’t feel bitterly about it. You don’t, do you?”
“Not the least.”
His mother stooped over and kissed him where he lay smiling. “Well, that’s good. After all, it’s you I cared for. Now I can say good-night.” But she lingered to tuck him in a little, from the persistence of the mother habit. “I wish you may never do anything that you will be sorry for.”
“Well, I won’t—if it’s a good action.”
They laughed together, and she left the room, still looking back to see if there was anything more she could do for him, while he lay smiling, intelligently for what she was thinking, and patiently for what she was doing.
Even in the time which was then coming and which now is, when successful authors are almost as many as millionaires, Verrian’s book brought him a pretty celebrity; and this celebrity was in a way specific. It related to the quality of his work, which was quietly artistic and psychological, whatever liveliness of incident it uttered on the surface. He belonged to the good school which is of no fashion and of every time, far both from actuality and unreality; and his recognition came from people whose recognition was worth having. With this came the wider notice which was not worth having, like the notice of Mrs. Westangle, since so well known to society reporters as a society woman, which could not be called recognition of him, because it did not involve any knowledge of his book, not even its title. She did not read any sort of books, and she assimilated him by a sort of atmospheric sense. She was sure of nothing but the attention paid him in a certain very goodish house, by people whom she heard talking in unintelligible but unmistakable praise, when she said, casually, with a liquid glitter of her sweet, small eyes, “I wish you would come down to my place, Mr. Verrian. I’m asking a few young people for Christmas week. Will you?”
“Why, thank you—thank you very much,” Verrian said, waiting to hear more in explanation of the hospitality launched at him. He had never seen Mrs. Westangle till then, or heard of her, and he had not the least notion where she lived. But she seemed to have social authority, though Verrian, in looking round at his hostess and her daughter, who stood near, letting people take leave, learned nothing from their common smile. Mrs. Westangle had glided close to him, in the way she had of getting very near without apparently having advanced by steps, and she stood gleaming and twittering up at him.