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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesNobody's Man - Book Two - Chapter 2
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Nobody's Man - Book Two - Chapter 2 Post by :Bulleke Category :Long Stories Author :E. Phillips Oppenheim Date :May 2012 Read :1048

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Nobody's Man - Book Two - Chapter 2

BOOK TWO CHAPTER II

Luncheon was a pleasant, even a luxurious meal, for the Woolhanger chef had come from the ducal household, but it was hedged about with restraints which fretted Tallente and rendered conversation monosyllabic. It was served, too, in the larger dining room, where the table, reduced to its smallest dimensions, still seemed to place a formidable distance between himself and his hostess. A manservant stood behind Lady Jane's chair, and the butler was in constant attendance at the sideboard. Under such circumstances, conversation became precarious and was confined chiefly to local topics. When they left the room for their coffee, they found it served in the hall. Tallente, however, protested vigorously.

"Can't we have it served in your sitting room, please?" he begged. "It is impossible to talk to you here. There are people in the background all the time, and you might have callers."

She hesitated for a moment but yielded the point. With the door closed and the coffee tray between them, Tallente drew a sigh of relief.

"I hope you don't think I am a nuisance," he said bluntly, "but, after all, I came down from London purposely to see you."

"I am not so vain as to believe that," she answered.

"It is nevertheless true and I think that you do believe it. What have I done that you should all of a sudden build a fence around yourself?"

"That may be," she replied, smiling, "for my own protection. I can assure you that I am not used to tete-a-tete luncheons with guests who insist upon having their own way in everything."

"I wonder if it is a good thing for you to be so much your own mistress," he reflected.

"You must judge by results. I always have been--at least since I decided to lead this sort of life."

"Why have you never married?" he asked her, a little abruptly.

"We discussed that before, didn't we? I suppose because the right man has never asked me."

"Perhaps," he ventured, "the right man isn't able to."

"Perhaps there isn't any right man at all--perhaps there never will be."

The minutes ticked away. The room, with its mingled perfumes and pleasant warmth, its manifold associations with her wholesome and orderly life, seemed to have laid a sort of spell upon him. She was leaning back in her corner of the lounge, her hands hanging over the sides, her eyes fixed upon the burning log. She herself was so abstracted that he ventured to let his eyes dwell upon her, to trace the outline of her slim but powerful limbs, to admire her long, delicate feet and hands, the strong womanly face, with its kindly mouth and soft, almost affectionate eyes. Tallente, who for the last ten years had looked upon the other sex as non-existent, crushed into an uninteresting negation for him owing to his wife's cold and shadowy existence, twice within the last few months found himself pass in a different way under the greatest spell in life. Nora Miall had provoked his curiosity, had reawakened a dormant sense of sex without attracting it towards herself. Jane brought to him again, from the first moment he had seen her, that half-wistful recrudescence of the sentiment of his earlier days. He was amazed to find how once more in her presence that sentiment had taken to itself fire and life, how different a thing it was from those first dreams of her, which had seemed like an echo from the period of his poetry-reading youth. Of all women in the world she seemed to him now the most desirable. That she was unattainable he was perfectly willing to admit. Even then he had not the strength to deny himself the doubtful joys of imagination with regard to her. He revelled in her proximity because of the pleasure it gave him, heedless or reckless of consequences. Between them, in vastly different degrees, these two women seemed to have brought him back something of his youth.

The silence became noticeable, led him at last into a certain measure of alarm.

"Lady Jane," he ventured, "have I said anything to offend you?"

"Of course not," she answered, looking at him kindly.

"You are very silent. Are you afraid that I am going to attempt to make love to you?"

She was startled in earnest this time. She sat up and looked at him disapprovingly. There was a touch of the old hauteur in her tone.

"How can you be so ridiculous!" she exclaimed.

"Would it be ridiculous of me?"

"Does it occur to you," she asked, "that I am the sort of person to encourage attentions from a man who is not free to offer them?"

"I had forgotten that," he admitted, quite frankly. "Of course, I see the point. I have a wife, even though of her own choosing she does not count."

"She exists."

"So do I."

Jane broke into a little laugh.

"Now we are both being absurd," she declared, "and I don't want to be and I don't want you to be. Of course, you can't look at things just as I do. You belong to a very large world. You spend your life destroying obstacles. All my people, you know," she went on, "look upon me as terribly emancipated. They think my mild socialism and my refusal to listen to such a thing as a chaperon most terribly improper, but at heart, you know, I am still a very conventional person. I have torn down a great many conventions, but there are some upon which I cannot bring myself even to lay my fingers."

"Perhaps it wouldn't be you if you did," he reflected.

"Perhaps not."

"And yet," he went on, "tell me, are you wholly content here? Your life, in its way, is splendid. You live as much for the benefit of others as for yourself. You are encouraging the right principle amongst your yeomen and your farmers. You are setting your heel upon feudalism--you, the daughter of a race who have always demanded it. You live amongst these wonderful surroundings, you grow into the bigness of them, nature becomes almost your friend. It is one of the most dignified and beautiful lives I ever knew for a woman, and yet--are you wholly content?"

"I am not," she admitted frankly. "And listen," she went on, after a moment's pause, "I will show you how much I trust you, how much I really want you to understand me. I am not completely happy because I know perfectly well that it is unnatural to live as I do. If I met the man I could care for and who cared for me, I should prefer to be married." She had commenced her speech with the faintest tinge of colour burning underneath the wholesome sunburn of her cheeks. She had spoken boldly enough, even though towards the end of her sentence her voice had grown very low. When she had finished, however, it seemed as though the memory of her words were haunting her, as though she suddenly realised the nakedness of them. She buried her face in her hands, and he saw her shoulders heave as though she were sobbing. He stood very close and for the first time he touched her. He held the fingers of her hand gently in his. "Dear Lady Jane," he begged, "don't regret even for a moment that you have spoken naturally. If we are to be friends, to be anything at all to one another, it is wonderful of you to tell me so sweetly what women take such absurd pains to conceal. . . . When you look up, let us start our friendship all over again, only before you do, listen to my confession. If fifteen years could be rolled off my back and I were free, it isn't political ambition I should look to for my guiding star. I should have one far greater, far more wonderful desire." The fingers he held were gently withdrawn. She drew herself up. Her forehead was wrinkled questioningly. She forced a smile. "You would be very foolish," she said, "if you tried to part with one of those fifteen years. Every one has brought you experiences Every one has helped to make you what you are."

"And yet--" he began.

He broke off abruptly in his speech. The hall seemed suddenly full of voices. Jane rose to her feet at the sound of approaching footsteps. She made the slightest possible grimace, but Tallente was oppressed with a suspicion that the interruption was not altogether unwelcome to her.

"Some of my cousins and their friends from Minehead," she said. "I am so sorry. I expect they have lost the hunt and come here for tea."

The room was almost instantly invaded by a company of light-hearted, noisy young people, flushed with exercise and calling aloud for tea, intimates all of them, calling one another by their Christian names, speaking a jargon which sounded to Tallente like another language. He stayed for a quarter of an hour and then took his leave. Of the newcomers, no one seemed to have an idea who he was, no one seemed to care in the least whether he remained or went, He was only able to snatch a word of farewell with Jane at the door. She shook her head at his whispered request.

"I am afraid not," she answered. "How could I? Besides, there is no telling when this crowd will go. You are sure you won't let me send you home?"

Tallente shook his head.

"The walk will do me good," he said. "I get lazy in town. But you are sure--"

The butler was holding open the door. Two of the girls had suddenly taken possession of Jane. She shook her head slightly.

"Good-by," she called out. "Come and see me next time you are down."

Tallente was suddenly his old self, grave and severe. He bowed stiffly in response to the little chorus of farewells and followed the butler down the hall. The latter, who was something of a politician, did his best to indicate by his manner his appreciation of Tallente's position.

"You are sure you won't allow me to order a car, sir?" he said, with his hand upon the door. "I know her ladyship would be only too pleased. It's a long step to the Manor, and if you'll forgive my saying so, sir, you've a good deal on your shoulders just now."

Tallente caught a glimpse of the bleak moorland and of the distant hills, wrapped in mist. The idea of vigorous exercise, however, appealed to him. He shook his head.

"I'd rather walk, thanks," he said.

"It's a matter of five miles, sir."

Tallente smiled. There was something in the fresh, cold air wonderfully alluring after the atmosphere of the room he had quitted. He turned his coat collar up and strode down the avenue.

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NEXT BOOKS

Nobody's Man - Book Two - Chapter 3 Nobody's Man - Book Two - Chapter 3

Nobody's Man - Book Two - Chapter 3
BOOK TWO CHAPTER IIITallente reached the Manor about an hour and a half later, mud-splashed, wet and weary. Robert followed him into the study and mixed him a whisky and soda. "You've walked all the way back, sir?" he remarked, with a note of protest in his tone. "They offered me a car," Tallente admitted. "I didn't want it. I came down for fresh air and exercise." "Two very good things in their way, sir, but easily overdone," was the mild rejoinder. "These hills are terrible unless you're at them all the time." Tallente drank his whisky and soda almost greedily
PREVIOUS BOOKS

Nobody's Man - Book Two - Chapter 1 Nobody's Man - Book Two - Chapter 1

Nobody's Man - Book Two - Chapter 1
BOOK TWO CHAPTER ITallente found himself possessed of a haunting, almost a morbid feeling that a lifetime had passed since last his car had turned out of the station gates and he had seen the moorland unroll itself before his eyes. There was a new pungency in the autumn air, an unaccustomed scantiness in the herbiage of the moor and the low hedges growing from the top of the stone walls. The glory of the heather had passed, though here and there a clump of brilliant yellow gorse remained. The telegraph posts, leaning away from the wind, seemed somehow scantier; the
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