“Twenty-four,” she answered promptly.
“And supposing you fell in love—taking it for granted that you have not done so already—should you marry?”
Her eyes rested upon his, a little narrowed, curiously and pleasantly reflective. All the time the corners of her sensitive mouth twitched a little.
“To tell you the truth,” she confided, with a somewhat evasive air, “I have been so busy thinking out life for other people that I have never stopped to apply its general principles to myself.”
“You are a sophist,” he declared.
“I have not your remarkable insight,” she laughed mockingly.
“How this came about I don’t even quite know,” Tallente remarked, an hour or so later, as he laid down the menu and smiled across the corner table in the little Soho restaurant at his two companions.
“I can tell you exactly,” Nora declared. “You are in town for a few days only, and I want to see as much of you as I can; Susan here is deserting me at nine o’clock to go to a musical comedy; I particularly wanted a sole Georges, and I knew, if Susan and I came here alone, a person whom we neither of us like would come and share our table. Therefore, I made artless enquiries as to your engagements for the evening. When I found that you proposed to dine alone in some hidden place rather than run the risk of meeting any of your political acquaintances at the club, I went in for a little mental suggestion.”
“I see,” he murmured. “Then my invitation wasn’t a spontaneous one?”
“Not at all,” she agreed. “I put the idea into your head.”
“And now that we are here, are you going to stretch me on the rack and delve for my opinions on all sorts of subjects? is Miss Susan there going to take them down in shorthand on her cuff and you make a report to Dartrey when he comes back to-morrow?”
She laughed at him from underneath her close-fitting, becoming little hat. She was biting an olive with firm white teeth.
“After hours,” she reassured him. “Susan and I are going to talk a little nonsense after the day’s work. You may join in if you can unbend so far. We shall probably eat more than is good for us—I had a cup of coffee for lunch—and if you decide to be magnificent and offer us wine, we shall drink it and talk more nonsense than ever.”
He called for the wine list.
“I thought we were going to discuss the effect of Grecian philosophy upon the Roman system of government.”
She shook her head.
“You’re a long way out,” she declared, “Our conversation will skirt the edges of many subjects. We shall speak of the Russian Ballet, Susan and I will exchange a few whispered confidences about our admirers, we shall discuss even one who comes in and goes out, with subtle references to their clothes and morals, and when you and I are left alone we may even indulge in the wholesome, sentimental exercise of a little flirtation.”