Jury arrived at Ardry End in the late afternoon. The roads were dreadful and the weather was worse, and for himself, he felt much as he imagined Wiggins usually did.
He got out of the car, raised an arm to cover his face to protect himself from the stinging sleet, and hurried to the front door.
Ruthven opened it and ushered him inside, closing the door behind him. Jury allowed the man to take his overcoat--already wet, despite the few moments out of doors--and unwound his muffler from his neck.
Cold burned through him, the warmth of the great house bringing a flush to his cheeks but going no deeper. The day was bleak, and he was chilled to his very marrow.
"Richard? Richard!" Plant appeared from the library, a look of inquiry on his face. "What on earth are you doing standing about in the hall? Come in, man!" He took Jury's arm and drew him into the room.
Jury went without protest. A fire flickered cheerfully in the grate, but the curtains had not yet been closed. The view out over the wintergrey fields was chilling, and the sleet stung the windows, trying to make its way in. He shivered involuntarily, imagining he felt the winter pressing close.
"You're frozen. It wasn't wise to come in this weather." Plant looked at him anxiously and steered him to the armchair closest to the fire.
Jury sank into it gratefully, extending one hand to the flames and reaching up to Plant with the other. "I didn't want to wait."
Plant took Jury's hand, his expression turning tender. "Well, I didn't want to wait either. But neither do I want you frozen to death. It would put rather a damper on the festive season."
At that, Jury laughed out. He imagined he could feel his blood sluggishly thawing, starting to flow in his veins again. "For me, certainly."
"And for me. You could have come yesterday, you know."
Jury smiled and pressed his fingers. "I know. But Carole-anne wanted me, and I didn't feel ready for explanations. Not quite yet."
Melrose nodded. "And you managed to leave me at the mercy of Agatha." He sighed. "See what she has given me as a Christmas gift."
In the alcove beside the chimney stood the Christmas tree, still decked out in yuletide splendour. Beside it stood a low table, stacked with one or two wrapped gifts, a selection of books, and an ostentatious silver cake stand.
Jury put up his brows. "The books? Or the cake plate?"
"The cake plate, as you so elegantly describe it."
"She wants you to fill it ready for her next visit." Jury's eyes twinkled.
"Undoubtedly. But that's not the joke." Melrose shook his head, but his eyes were merry. "It's mine, Richard. It's part of the Caverness plate. She's got her hands on it sometime in the last ten years, and obviously she's decided it's too hot to handle. And so, I receive my own silver for Christmas."
By the time Richard had finished laughing, he had thawed sufficiently to embark on Melrose's whiskey.
He savored the warmth of the alcohol and the warmth of his friend's nearness, and his eyes strayed to the Christmas tree. "I did bring a gift. But this blasted weather--I left my bags in the car."
Melrose sipped his own drink then set his glass upon the mantlepiece. "Ruthven will fetch them. He's very good like that."
"No, no, I wouldn't turn the man out in this weather--" Jury started to get up, but Plant was before him, catching his arms.
"Ruthven enjoys such occupation. But as for gifts, I had thought of leaving them until after supper. Unless of course you wanted to spend the evening at the Jack & Hammer."
"I'd sooner not go out again." Jury spared a glance at the winter beyond the windows.
"Good." An expression of satisfaction spread over Melrose's face. "Then, if you are agreeable, I thought we might go upstairs for a time. I expect you're tired after your journey?"
Richard's eyes brightened and he moved his own hands to Melrose's waist. "I am relying on you to refresh me, my friend," he said in a whisper, and his lips found Plant's.
"My Richard. I have every intention of doing just that."