Verrian rose awkwardly and stood a long moment before his chair. Then he dropped back again, saying, dryly, “I don’t think I want to ask it anything.”
The phantom sank straight down as if sinking through the floor, but lay there like a white shawl trailed along the bottom of the dark curtain.
“And is that all?” Miss Macroyd asked Verrian. “I was just getting up my courage to go forward. But now, I suppose—”
“Oh, dear!” Miss Andrews called out. “Perhaps it’s fainted. Hadn’t we better—”
There were formless cries from the women, and the men made a crooked rush forward, in which Verrian did not join. He remained where he had risen, with Miss Macroyd beside him.
“Perhaps it’s only a coup de theatre!” she said, with her laugh. “Better wait.”
Bushwick was gathering the prostrate figure up. “She has fainted!” he called. “Get some water, somebody!”
The early Monday morning train which brought Verrian up to town was so very early that he could sit down to breakfast with his mother only a little later than their usual hour.
She had called joyfully to him from her room, when she heard the rattling of his key as he let himself into the apartment, and, after an exchange of greetings, shouted back and forth before they saw each other, they could come at once to the history of his absence over their coffee. “You must have had a very good time, to stay so long. After you wrote that you would not be back Thursday, I expected it would be Saturday till I got your telegram. But I’m glad you stayed. You certainly needed the rest.”
“Yes, if those things are ever a rest.” He looked down at his cup while he stirred the coffee in it, and she studied his attitude, since she could not see his face fully, for the secret of any vital change that might have come upon him. It could be that in the interval since she had seen him he had seen the woman who was to take him from her. She was always preparing herself for that, knowing that it must come almost as certainly as death, and knowing that with all her preparation she should not be ready for it. “I’ve got rather a long story to tell you and rather a strange story,” he said, lifting his head and looking round, but not so impersonally that his mother did not know well enough to say to the Swedish serving-woman:
“You needn’t stay, Margit. I’ll give Mr. Philip his breakfast. Well!” she added, when they were alone.
“Well,” he returned, with a smile that she knew he was forcing, “I have seen the girl that wrote that letter.”
“Not Jerusha Brown?”
“Not Jerusha Brown, but the girl all the same.”
“Now go on, Philip, and don’t miss a single word!” she commanded him, with an imperious breathlessness. “You know I won’t hurry you or interrupt you, but you must—you really must-tell me everything. Don’t leave out the slightest detail.”