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.”
Verrian stared at her now from a visage that was an entire blank, though behind it conjecture was busy, and he was asking himself whether his companion was some new kind of hair-dresser, or uncommonly cultivated manicure, or a nursery governess obeying a hurry call to take a place in Mrs. Westangle’s household, or some sort of amateur housekeeper arriving to supplant a professional. But he said nothing.
Miss Shirley said, with a distress which was genuine, though he perceived a trace of amusement in it, too, “I see that I will have to go on.”
“Oh, do!” he made out to utter.
“I am going to Mrs. Westangle’s as a sort of mistress of the revels. The business is so new that it hasn’t got its name yet, but if I fail it won’t need any. I invented it on a hint I got from a girl who undertakes the floral decorations for parties. I didn’t see why some one shouldn’t furnish suggestions for amusements, as well as flowers. I was always rather lucky at that in my own fam—at my father’s—” She pulled herself sharply up, as if danger lay that way. “I got an introduction to Mrs. Westangle, and she’s to let me try. I am going to her simply as part of the catering, and I’m not to have any recognition in the hospitalities. So it wasn’t necessary for her to send for me at the station, except as a means of having me on the ground in good season. I have to thank you for that, and—I thank you.” She ended in a sigh.
“It’s very interesting,” Verrian said, and he hoped he was not saying it in any ignoble way.
He was very presently to learn. Round a turn of the road there came a lively clacking of horses’ shoes on the hard track, with the muted rumble of rubber-tired wheels, and Mrs. Westangle’s victoria dashed into view. The coachman had made a signal to Verrian’s driver, and the vehicles stopped side by side. The footman instantly came to the door of the carryall, touching his hat to Verrian.
“Going to Mrs. Westangle’s, sir?”
“Mrs. Westangle’s carriage. Going to the station for you, sir.”
“Miss Shirley,” Verrian said, “will you change?”
“Oh no,” she answered, quickly, “it’s better for me to go on as I am. But the carriage was sent for you. You must—”
Verrian interrupted to ask the footman, “How far is it yet to Mrs. Westangle’s?”
“About a mile, sir.”
“I think I won’t change for such a short distance. I’ll keep on as I am,” Verrian said, and he let the goatskin, which he had half lifted to free Miss Shirley for dismounting, fall back again. “Go ahead, driver.”