Jo held out her hand. "Jo Harper ... have I got the right house?"
The woman did not reach out her own hand. "What is it in connection with?"
"I've been speaking to Peter Bolton at the Academy," Jo said.
Alicia Marshall's face clouded. Her mouth turned down in an expression of distaste. "He sent you here?"
"No," Jo replied, "but I was speaking to him an hour ago. I'm from The Courier."
The mention of one of most prestigious British newspapers sometimes eased the way into a conversation like this one; if it was anything at all, it was at least a guarantee that any story would be intelligently handled. Jo expected to see a softening in Alicia Marshall's face.
Instead the other woman began to close the door.
"I was wondering if you could tell me about this trip," Jo said. "Why your husband went ... how you feel about such"--she hesitated for a second under the scathing gaze--"such adventures."
For the first time Alicia Marshall smiled. "Adventures?" she echoed.
"Have you heard from your husband?"
"No." The door caught a little on the flagstone floor of the hall- way. Alicia pushed it hard.
"You've heard nothing at all? Since he left?"
"No. Now please--"
Jo put her hand on the door frame. "Are you separated?" she asked.
Alicia Marshall gave Jo a lingering look. Then, "You people," she said at last, contempt in her voice.
"Would you speak to me about him?" Jo persisted.
"Please take your hand from the door."
"Are you worried?"
"I'm sorry? You're not worried at all?"
Mrs. Marshall stared pointedly at Jo's hand.
"Do you think he's alive?" Jo asked.
"I really have no idea."
Astonished at her tone, Jo dropped her hand.
Alicia Marshall shut the door in her face.
For some time Jo remained where she was, staring at the heavy iron knocker. Behind her the rain pattered down through the magnolia. Turning, she glanced up and saw the drops forming on the first half-opened petals on the naked branches.
"Not worried," she murmured.
Past the tree a field stretched away to a patch of woodland. Nothing stirred in the landscape at all, not a blade of grass, nothing in the blue blur of the distant city. It was a picture book, with Douglas Marshall's house delicately penciled in the foreground.
Jo wondered what had happened here, to make a wife want to seem careless of a husband's life or death. And suddenly she felt very sorry indeed for Douglas Marshall.
And very interested indeed in what had taken him away from home.
Copyright 2001, Elizabeth McGregor. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced without written permission from the publisher - Dutton Books.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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