Tallente, as he swung onwards, carrying his cap in his hand, felt a great glow of thankfulness for the impulse which had brought him here. Already he was finding himself. The tangled emotions of the last week were loosening their grip upon his brain and consciousness. Behind him London was in an uproar, his name and future the theme of every journal. Journalists were besieging his rooms. Embryo statesmen were telephoning for appointments. Great men sent their secretaries to suggest a meeting. And in the midst of it all he had disappeared. The truth as to his sudden absence from town was unknown even to Dartrey. At the very moment when his figure loomed large and triumphant upon one of the great canvasses in history, he had simply slipped away, a disappearance as dramatic as it was opportune. And all because he had a fancy to see how spring sat upon the moors,—and because he had walked back to his rooms by way of Charles Street and because he had met Lady Alice.
The last ascent was finished and below him lay the house and climbing woods,—woods that crept into the bosom of the hills, the closely growing trees tipped with tender greens melting into the softest of indeterminate greys as the breeze rippled through their tops like fingers across a harp. The darker line of moorland in the background, scant as ever of herbiage, had yet lost its menacing bareness and seemed touched with the faint colour of the earth beneath, almost pink in the generous sunshine. The avenue into which he presently turned was starred on either side with a riot of primroses, running wild into the brambles, with here and there a belt of bluebells. The atmosphere beneath the closely growing trees—limes, with great waxy buds—became enervating with spring odours and a momentary breathlessness came to Tallente, fresh from his crowded days and nights of battle. The sun-warmed wave of perfume from the trim beds of hyacinths in the suddenly disclosed garden was almost overpowering and he passed like a man in a dream through their sweetness to the front door. The butler who admitted him conducted him at once to Jane’s sanctum. Without any warning he was ushered in.
“Mr. Tallente, your ladyship.”
He had a strange impression of her as she rose from a very sea of newspapers. She was thinner—he was sure of that—dressed in indoor clothes although it was the middle of the morning, a suggestion of the invalid about her easy-chair and her tired eyes. It seemed to him that for a moment they were lit with a gleam of fear which passed almost instantaneously. She had recovered herself even before the door was closed behind the departing servant.
“Mr. Tallente!” she repeated. “You! But how is this possible?”
“Everything is possible,” he answered. “I have come to see you, Jane.”
She was glad but amazed. Even when he had obeyed her involuntary gesture and seated himself by her side, there was something incredulous about her expression.