“Neighbours from a Devon man’s point of view,” he answered. “I live half-way down a precipice, and she five miles away, at the back of a Stygian moor, and incidentally a thousand feet above me.”
“You seem to have surmounted such geographical obstacles.”
“Your sister’s friendship is worth greater efforts,” Tallente replied.
Lady Alice smiled.
“I wish that some of you could persuade her to come to town occasionally,” she said. “Jane is a perfect dear, of course, and I know she does a great deal of good down there, but I can’t help thinking sometimes that she is a little wasted. Life must now and then be dreary for her.” Tallente seemed for a moment to be looking through the walls of the room. “We are all made differently. Lady Jane is very self-reliant and Devonshire is one of those counties which have a curiously strong local hold.”
“But when her moors and her farms are under snow, and Woolhanger is wreathed in mists, and one hears nothing except the moaning of animals in distress, what about the local attraction then?”
“You speak feelingly,” Tallente observed, smiling. “I spent a fortnight with Jane last winter,” she explains. “I had some idea of hunting. Never again! Only I miss Jane. She is such a dear and I don’t see half enough of her.”
“I saw her yesterday,” Tallente said reminiscently. “This morning she told me she was going to ride out to inspect for herself the farm of the one black sheep amongst her tenants. I looked out towards Woolhanger as I came up in the train. It seemed like a miasma of driven snow and mists.”
“Every one to his tastes,” Lady Alice observed, as she turned away with a friendly little nod. “I have just an idea, however, that this morning’s excursion was a little too much even for Jane.”
“What do you mean?” Tallente asked eagerly. Lady Alice looked at him over the top of her fan. She was a woman of instinct. “I had a telegram from her just before I came out,” she said. “There wasn’t much in it, but it gave me an idea that after all perhaps she is thinking of a short visit to town. Come and see me, Mr. Tallente, won’t you? I live in Mount Street—Number 17. My husband used to play cricket with you, I think.”
She passed on and Tallente stood looking after her for a moment, a little dazed. A friend came up and took him by the arm.
“Unprotected and alone in the gilded halls of the enemy!” the newcomer exclaimed. “Come and have a drink. By the by, you look as though you’d had good news.”
“I have,” Tallente assented, smiling.
“Then we’ll drink to it—Mum’ll. Not bad stuff. This way.”