“What are you two laughing so about?” the voice of Mrs. Westangle twittered at Verrian’s elbow, and, looking down, he found her almost touching it. She had a very long, narrow neck, and, since it was long and narrow, she had the good sense not to palliate the fact or try to dress the effect of it out of sight. She took her neck in both hands, as it were, and put it more on show, so that you had really to like it. Now it lifted her face, though she was not a tall person, well towards the level of his; to be sure, he was himself only of the middle height of men, though an aquiline profile helped him up.
He stirred the tea which he had ceased to drink, and said, “I wasn’t ‘laughing so about,’ Mrs. Westangle. It was Miss Macroyd.”
“And I was laughing so about a mysterious stranger that came up on the train with us and got out at your station.”
“And I was trying to make out what was so funny in a mysterious stranger, or even in her getting out at your station.”
Mrs. Westangle was not interested in the case, or else she failed to seize the joke. At any rate, she turned from them without further question and went away to another part of the room, where she semi-attached herself in like manner to another couple, and again left it for still another. This was possibly her idea of looking after her guests; but when she had looked after them a little longer in that way she left the room and let them look after themselves till dinner.
“Come, Mr. Verrian,” Miss Macroyd resumed, “what is the secret? I’ll never tell if you tell me.”
“You won’t if I don’t.”
“Now you are becoming merely trivial. You are ceasing even to be provoking.” Miss Macroyd, in token of her displeasure, laughed no longer.
“Am I?” he questioned; thoughtfully. “Well, then, I am tempted to act upon impulse.”
“Oh, do act upon impulse for once,” she urged. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.”
“Do you mean that I’m never impulsive?”
“I don’t think you look it.”
“If you had seen me an hour ago you would have said I was very impulsive. I think I may have exhausted myself in that direction, however. I feel the impulse failing me now.”
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.