“Oh,” Bushwick returned, politely, and it would have been reassuringly if Verrian had wished not to be known as an author. The secret in which he lived in that regard was apparently safe from that young, amiable, good-looking real-estate broker. He inferred, from the absence of any allusion to the superstition of the women as to his profession, that it had not spread to Bushwick at least, and this inclined him the more to like him. They sat up talking pleasantly together about impersonal affairs till Bushwick finished his cigar. Then he started for bed, saying, “Well, good-night. I hope Mrs. Westangle won’t have anything so active on the tapis for tomorrow.”
“Try and sleep it off. Good-night.”
Verrian remained to finish his cigar, but at the end he was not yet sleepy, and he thought he would get a book from the library, if that part of the house were still lighted, and he looked out to see. Apparently it was as brilliantly illuminated as when the company had separated there for the night, and he pushed across the foyer hall that separated the billiard-room from the drawing-zoom and library. He entered the drawing-room, and in the depths of the library, relieved against the rows of books in their glass cases, he startled Miss Shirley from a pose which she seemed to be taking there alone.
At the instant of their mutual recognition she gave a little muted shriek, and then gasped out, “I beg your pardon,” while he was saying, too, “I beg your pardon.”
After a tacit exchange of forgiveness, he said, “I am afraid I startled you. I was just coming for a book to read myself asleep with. I—”
“Not at all,” she returned. “I was just—” Then she did not say what, and he asked:
“Making some studies?”
“Yes,” she owned, with reluctant promptness.
“I mustn’t ask what,” he suggested, and he made an effort to smile away what seemed a painful perturbation in her as he went forward to look at the book-shelves, from which, till then, she had not slipped aside.
“I’m in your way,” she said, and he answered, “Not at all.” He added to the other sentence he had spoken, “If it’s going to be as good as what you gave us today—”
“You are very kind.” She hesitated, and then she said, abruptly: “What I did to-day owed everything to you, Mr. Verrian,” and while he desisted from searching the book-shelves, she stood looking anxiously at him, with the pulse in her neck visibly throbbing. Her agitation was really painful, but Verrian did not attribute it to her finding herself there alone with him at midnight; for though the other guests had all gone to bed, the house was awake in some of the servants, and an elderly woman came in presently bringing a breadth of silvery gauze, which she held up, asking if it was that.
“Not exactly, but it will do nicely, Mrs. Stager. Would you mind getting me the very pale-blue piece that electric blue?”