Of course, this Miss Shirley felt Verrian’s irony, which he had guarded from any expression with genuine compassion for her. She must feel that to his knowledge of life she and her experiment had an absurdity which would not pass, whatever their success might be. If she meant business, and business only, they ought to have met as two men would have met, but he knew that they had not done so, and she must have known it. All that was plain sailing enough, but beyond this lay a sea of conjecture in which he found himself without helm or compass. Why, should she have acted a fib about his being an actor, and why, after the end, should she have added an end, in which she returned to own that she had been fibbing? For that was what it came to; and though Verrian tasted a delicious pleasure in the womanish feat by which she overcame her womanishness, he could not puzzle out her motive. He was not sure that he wished to puzzle it out. To remain with illimitable guesses at his choice was more agreeable, for the present at least, and he was not aware of having lapsed from them when he woke so late as to be one of the breakfasters whose plates were kept for them after the others were gone.
It was the first time that Verrian had come down late, and it was his novel experience to find himself in charge of Mrs. Stager at breakfast, instead of the butler and the butler’s man, who had hitherto served him at the earlier hour. There were others, somewhat remote from him, at table, who were ending when he was beginning, and when they had joked themselves out of the room and away from Mrs. Stager’s ministrations he was left alone to her. He had instantly appreciated a quality of motherliness in her attitude towards him, and now he was sensible of a kindly intimacy to which he rather helplessly addressed himself.
“Well, Mrs. Stager, did you see a ghost on your way to bed?”
“I don’t know as I really expected to,” she said. “Won’t you have a few more of the buckwheats?”
“Do you think I’d better? I believe I won’t. They’re very tempting. Miss Shirley makes a very good ghost,” he suggested.
Mrs. Stager would not at first commit herself further than to say in bringing him the butter, “She’s just up from a long fit of sickness.” She impulsively added, “She ain’t hardly strong enough to be doing what she is, I tell her.”
“I understood she had been ill,” Verrian said. “We drove over from the station together, the other day.”
“Yes,” Mrs. Stager admitted. “Kind of a nervous breakdown, I believe. But she’s got an awful spirit. Mrs. Westangle don’t want her to do all she is doing.”
Verrian looked at her in surprise. He had not expected that of the India-rubber nature he had attributed to Mrs. Westangle. In view of Mrs. Stager’s privity to the unimagined kindliness of his hostess, he relaxed himself in a further interest in Miss Shirley, as if it would now be safe. “She’s done splendidly, so far,” he said, meaning the girl. “I’m glad Mrs. Westangle appreciates her work.”