They passed into the cool, geranium-scented hall. She pointed to an easy-chair by the side of which was set, on a small mahogany table, a silver cocktail shaker and two glasses.
“Please be as comfortable as you can,” she begged, “for a quarter of an hour. If you like to wash, a touch of the bell there will bring Morton. I must change my clothes. I had to ride out to one of the outlying farms this morning, and we came back rather quickly.”
She moved about the hall as she spoke, putting little things to rights. Then she passed up the circular staircase. At the bend she looked back and caught him watching her. She waved her hand with a little less than her usual frankness. Tallente had forgotten for a moment his whereabouts, his fatigue, his general weariness. He had turned around in his chair and was watching her. She found something in the very intensity of his gaze disturbing, vaguely analogous to certain half-formed thoughts of her own. She called out some light remark, scoffed at herself, and ran lightly out of sight, calling to her maid as she went.
Luncheon was served in a small room at the back of the house. Through the wide-flung French windows was a vista of terraced walks, the two sunken tennis lawns, a walled garden leading into an orchard, and beyond, the great wood-hung cleft in the hills, on either side of which the pastoral fields, like little squares, stretched away upwards. From here there was no trace of the more barren, unkinder side of the moorland. The succession of rich colours merged at last into the dim, pearly hue where sky and cloud met, in the golden haze of the August heat, a haze more like a sort of transparent filminess than anything which really obscured.
Lady Jane, whose gift of femininity had triumphed even over her farm clothes, seemed to Tallente to convey a curiously mingled impression of restfulness and delicate charm in her cool, white muslin dress, low at the neck, the Paquin-made garment of an Aphrodite. She talked to him with all the charm of an accomplished hostess, and yet with the occasional fascinating reserve of the woman who finds her companion something more than ordinarily sympathetic. The butler served them unattended from the sideboard, but before luncheon was half way through they dispensed with his services.
“I suppose it has occurred to you by this time, Mr. Tallente,” she said, as she watched the coffee in a glass machine by her side, “that I am a very unconventional person.”
“Whatever you are,” he replied, “I am grateful for.”
“Cryptic, but with quite a nice sort of sound about it,” she observed, smiling. “Tell me honestly, though, aren’t you surprised to find me living here quite alone?”
“It seems to me perfectly natural,” he answered.
“I live without a chaperon,” she went on, “because a chaperon called by that name would bore me terribly. As a matter of fact, though, there is generally some one staying here. I find it easy enough to persuade my friends and some of my relatives that a corner of Exmoor is not half a bad place in the spring and summer. It is through the winter that I am generally avoided.”