“You will make an awful nuisance of me if you don’t mind,” he warned her. “If you encourage me like this, you will develop the most juvenile of all failings—you will make me want to talk about myself. I am beginning to feel terribly egotistical already.”
She leaned a little towards him. Her mouth was soft with sweet and feminine tenderness, her eyes warm with kindness.
“That is just what I hoped I might succeed in doing,” she declared. “I have been interested in your career ever since I had the faintest idea of what politics meant. You could not give me a greater happiness than to talk to me—about yourself.”
Very soon tea was brought in. The homely service of the meal, and Robert’s plain clothes, seemed to demand some sort of explanation. It was she who provided the opening.
“Will your wife be long away?” she enquired.
Tallente looked at his guest thoughtfully. She was pouring out tea from an ordinary brown earthenware pot with an air of complete absorption in her task. The friendliness of her seemed somehow to warm the atmosphere of the room, even as her sympathy had stolen into the frozen places of his life. For the moment he ignored her question. His eyes appraised her critically, reminiscently. There was something vaguely familiar in the frank sweetness of her tone and manner.
“I am going to make the most idiotically commonplace remark,” he said. “I cannot believe that this is the first time we have met.”
“It isn’t,” she replied, helping herself to strawberry
“Are you in earnest?” he asked, puzzled.
“Do you mean that I have spoken to you?”
“Not only that but you have made me a present.”
He searched the recesses of his memory in vain. She smiled at his perplexity and began to count on her fingers.
“Let me see,” she said, “exactly fourteen years ago you arrived in Paris from London on a confidential mission to a certain person.”
“To Lord Peters!” he exclaimed.
“You had half an hour to spare after you had finished your business, and you begged to see the young people. Maggie Peters was always a friend of yours. You came into the morning-room and I was there.”
“Yes! I was at school in Paris, and I was spending my half-holiday with Maggie.”
“The little brown girl!” he murmured. “I never heard your name, and when I sent the chocolates I had to send them to ’the young lady in brown.’ Of course I remember! But your hair was down your back, you had freckles, and you were as silent as a mouse.”
“You see how much better my memory is than yours,” she laughed.
“I am not so sure,” he objected. “You took me for the gardener just now.”
“Not when you came down the steps,” she protested, “and besides, it is your own fault for wearing such atrociously old clothes.”