Copyright
E. Phillips Oppenheim.

Nobody's Man online

. (page 12 of 19)
Online LibraryE. Phillips OppenheimNobody's Man → online text (page 12 of 19)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


"I want to see you alone," he insisted, "for the first time, at any
rate."

"Then will you take me to that little place you told me of in Soho?" she
suggested. "I don't want a whole crowd to know that I am in town just
yet. Don't think that it sounds vain, but people have such a habit of
almost carrying one off one's feet. I want to prowl about London and do
ordinary things. One or two theatres, perhaps, but no dinner parties.
I shan't stay long, I don't suppose. As soon as I hear from Mr.
Segerson that the snow has gone and that terrible north wind has died
away, I know I shall be wanting to get back."

"You are very conscientious about your work there," he complained.
"Don't you ever realise that you may have an even more important mission
here?"

For a single moment she seemed troubled. Her manner, when she spoke,
had lost something of its calm graciousness.

"Really?" she said. "Well, you must tell me all about it to-morrow
night. I shall wear a hat and you must not order the dinner beforehand.
I don't mind your ordering the table, because I like a corner, but we
must sail into the place just like any other two wanderers. It is
agreed?"

He bent over her fingers. His good angel and his instinct of
sensibility, which was always appraising her attitude towards him,
prompted his studied farewell.

"You will let yourself out?" she begged. "I have taken off my cloak and
I could not face that wind."

"Of course," he answered. "I shall call for you at a quarter to eight
to-morrow night. I only wish I could make you understand what it means
to have that to look forward to."

"If you can make me believe that," she answered gravely, "perhaps I
shall be glad that I have come."



CHAPTER VIII

Whilst Tallente, rejuvenated, and with a wonderful sense of well-being
at the back of his mind, was on his feet in the House of Commons on the
following afternoon, leading an unexpected attack against the
unfortunate Government, Dartrey sat at tea in Nora's study. Nora, who
had had a very busy day, was leaning back in her chair, well content
though a little fatigued. Dartrey, who had forgotten his lunch in the
stress of work, was devoting himself to the muffins.

"While I think of it," he said, "let me thank you for playing hostess so
charmingly the other night."

She made him a little bow.

"Your dinner party was a great success."

"Was it?" he murmured, a little doubtfully. "I am not quite so sure. I
can't seem to get at Tallente, somehow."

"He is doing his work well, isn't he?"

"The mechanical side of it is most satisfactory," Dartrey confessed.
"He is the most perfect Parliamentary machine that was ever evolved."

"Surely that is exactly what you want? You were always complaining that
there was no one to bring the stragglers into line."

"For the present," Dartrey admitted, "Tallente is doing excellently. I
wish, though, that I could see a little farther into the future."

"Tell me exactly what fault you find with him?" Nora persisted.

"He lacks enthusiasm already. He makes none of the mistakes which are
coincident with genius and he is a little intolerant. He takes no
trouble to adapt himself to varying views, he has a fine, broad outlook,
but no man can see into every corner of the earth, and what is outside
his outlook does not exist."

"Anything else?"

"He is not happy in his work. There is something wanting in his scheme
of life. I have built a ladder for him to climb. I have given him the
chance of becoming the greatest statesman of to-day. One would think
that he had some other ambition."

Nora sighed. She looked across at her visitor a little diffidently.

"I can help you to understand Andrew Tallente," she declared. "His
condition is the greatest of all tributes to my sex. He has had an
unhappy married life. From forty to fifty he has borne it
philosophically as a man may. Now the reaction has come. With the
first dim approach of age, he becomes suddenly terrified for the things
he is missing."

Dartrey was thoughtful.

"I dare say you are right," he admitted, "but if he needs an Aspasia,
surely she could be found?"

Nora rested her head upon her fingers. She seemed to be watching
intently the dancing flames. Her broad, womanly forehead was troubled,
her soft brown eyes pensive.

"He is fifty years old," she said. "It is rather an anomalous age. At
fifty a man's taste is almost hypercritical and his attraction to my sex
is on the wane. No, the problem isn't so easy."

Dartrey had finished tea and was feeling for his cigarette case.

"I rather fancied, Nora, that he was attracted by you."

"Well, he isn't, then," she replied, with a smile.

"He was rather by way of thinking that he was, the other night, but that
was simply because he was in a curiously unsettled state and he felt
that I was sympathetic."

"You are a very clever woman, Nora," he said, looking across at her.
"You could make him care for you if you chose."

"Is that to be my sacrifice to the cause?" she asked. "Am I to give my
soul to its wrong keeper, that our party may flourish?"

"You don't like Tallente?"

"I like him immensely," she contradicted vigorously. "If I weren't
hopelessly in love with some one else, I could find it perfectly easy to
try and make life a different place for him."

He looked at her with trouble in his kind eyes. It was as though he had
suddenly stumbled upon a tragedy.

"I have never guessed this about you, Nora," he murmured.

"You are not observant of small things," she answered, a little
bitterly.

"Who is the man?"

"That I shall not tell you."

"Do I know him?"

"Less, I should say, than any one of your acquaintance."

He was silent for a moment or two. Then it chanced that the telephone
rang for him, with a message from the House of Commons. He gave some
instructions to his secretary.

"It is a queer thing," he remarked, as he replaced the receiver, "how
far our daily work and our ambitions take us out of our immediate
environment. I see you day by day, Nora, I have known you intimately
since your school days - and I never guessed."

"You never guessed and I have no time to suffer," she answered. "So we
go on until the breaking time comes, until one part of ourselves
conquers and the other loses. It is rather like that just now with
Andrew Tallente. A few more years and it will probably be like that
with me."

He threw his cigarette away as though the flavour had suddenly become
distasteful and sat drumming with his fingers upon the table, his eyes
fixed upon Nora.

"Tallente's position," he said thoughtfully, "one can understand. He is
married, isn't he, and with all the splendid breadth of his intellectual
outlook he is still harassed by the social fetters of his birth and
bringing up. I can conceive Tallente as a person too highminded to seek
to evade the law and too scornful for intrigue. But you, Nora, how is
it that your love brings you unhappiness? You are young and free, and
surely," he concluded, with a little sigh, "when you choose you can make
yourself irresistible."

She looked at him with a peculiar light in her eyes.

"I have proved myself very far from being irresistible," she declared.
"The man for whose love my whole being is aching to-day is absolutely
unawakened as to my desirability. I enjoy with him the most impersonal
friendship in which two people of opposite sexes ever indulged."

"I thought that I was acquainted with all your intimates," Dartrey
observed, in a puzzled tone. "Let me meet this man and judge for
myself, Nora."

"Do you mean that?" she asked.

"Certainly."

"Very well, then," she acquiesced, "I'll ask him to dinner here. When
are you free?"

He glanced through a thin memorandum book.

"On Sunday night?"

"At eight o'clock," she said. "You won't mind a simple dinner, I know.
I can promise you that you will be interested. My friend is worth
knowing."

Dartrey took his departure a little hurriedly. He had suddenly
remembered an appointment at his committee rooms and went off with his
mind full of the troubles of a northern constituency. On his way up
Parliament Street he met Miller, who turned and walked by his side.

"Heard the news?" the latter asked curtly. "No. Is there any?" was the
quick reply.

"Tallente's broken the truce," Miller announced. "There was rather an
acid debate on the Compensation Clauses of Hensham's Allotment Bill.
Tallente pulled them to pieces and then challenged a division. The
Government Whips were fairly caught napping and were beaten by twelve
votes." Dartrey's eyes flashed.

"Tallente is a most wonderful tactician," he said. "This is the second
time he's forced the Government into a hole. Horlock will never last
the session, at this rate."

"There are rumours of a resignation, of course," Miller went on, "but
they aren't likely to go out on a snatched division like this."

"We don't want them to," Dartrey agreed. "All the time, though, this
sort of thing is weakening their prestige. We shall be ready to give
them their coup de grace in about four months."

The two men were silent for a moment. Then Miller spoke again a little
abruptly.

"I can't seem to get on with Tallente," he confessed.

"I am sorry," Dartrey regretted. "You'll have to try, Miller. We can't
do without him."

"Try? I have tried," was the impatient rejoinder. "Tallente may have
his points but nature never meant him to be a people's man. He's too
hidebound in convention and tradition. Upon my soul, Dartrey, he makes
me feel like a republican of the bloodthirsty age, he's so blasted
superior!"

"You're going back to the smaller outlook, Miller," his chief
expostulated. "These personal prejudices should be entirely negligible.
I am perfectly certain that Tallente himself would lay no stress upon
them."

"Stress upon them? Damn it, I'm as good as he is!" Miller exclaimed
irritably. "There's no harm in Tallente's ratting, quitting his order
and coming amongst us Democrats, but what I do object to is his bringing
the mannerisms and outlook of Eton and Oxford amongst us. When I am
with him, he always makes me feel that I am doing the wrong thing and
that he knows it."

Dartrey frowned a little impatiently.

"This is rubbish, Miller," he pronounced. "It is you who are to blame
for attaching the slightest importance to these trifles."

"Trifles!" Miller growled. "Within a very short time, Dartrey, this
question will have to be settled. Does Tallente know that I am promised
a seat in his Cabinet?"

"I think that he must surmise it."

"The sooner he knows, the better," Miller declared acidly. "Tallente
can unbend all right when he likes. He was dining at the Trocadero the
other night with Brooks and Ainley and Parker and Saunderson - the most
cheerful party in the place. Tallente seemed to have slipped out of
himself, and yet there isn't one of those men who has ever had a day's
schooling or has ever worn anything but ready-made clothes. He leaves
his starch off when he's with them. What's the matter with me, I should
like to know? I'm a college man, even though I did go as an
exhibitioner. I was a school teacher when those fellows were wielding
pick-axes."

Dartrey looked at his companion thoughtfully. For a single moment the
words trembled upon his lips which would have brought things to an
instant and profitless climax. Then he remembered the million or so of
people of Miller's own class and way of thinking, to whom he was a
leading light, and he choked back the words.

"I find this sort of conversation a little peevish, Miller," he said.
"As soon as any definite difference of opinion arises between you and
Tallente, I will intervene. At present you are both doing good work.
Our cause needs you both."

"You won't forget how I stand?" Miller persisted, as they reached their
destination.

"No one has ever yet accused me of breaking my word," was the somewhat
chilly rejoinder. "You shall have your pound of flesh."



CHAPTER IX

Jane leaned back in her chair, drew off her gloves and looked around her
with an appreciative smile. She had somehow the subtle air of being
even more pleased with herself and her surroundings than she was willing
to admit. Every table in the restaurant was occupied. The waiters were
busy: there was an air of gaiety. A faint smell of cookery hung about
the place and its clients were undeniably a curious mixture of the
bourgeois and theatrical. Nevertheless, she was perfectly content and
smiled her greetings to the great Monsieur George, who himself brought
their menu.

"We want the best of your ordinary dishes," Tallente told him, "and
remember that we do not come here expecting Ritz specialities or a Savoy
_chef d'oeuvre_. We want those special _hors d'oeuvres_ which you know
all about, a sole grilled _a la maison_, a plainly roasted chicken with
an endive salad. The sweets are your affair. The savoury must be a
cheese soufflé. And for wine - "

He broke off and looked across the table. Jane smiled apologetically.

"You will never bring me out again," she declared. "I want some
champagne."

"I never felt more like it myself," he agreed. "The _Pommery_, George,
slightly iced, an aperitif now, and the dinner can take its course. We
will linger over the _hors d'oeuvres_ and we are in no hurry."

George departed and Tallente smiled across at his companion. It was a
wonderful moment, this. His steady success of the last few months, the
triumph of the afternoon had never brought him one of the thrills which
were in his pulses at that moment, not one iota of the pleasurable sense
of well-being which was warming his veins. The new menace which had
suddenly thrown its shadow across his path was forgotten. Governments
might come or go, a career be made or broken upon the wheel. He was
alone with Jane.

"Now tell me all the news at Woolhanger?" he asked.

"Woolhanger lies under a mantle of snow," she told him. "There is a
wind blowing there which seems to have come straight from the ice of the
North Pole and sounds like the devil playing bowls amongst the hills."

"The hunting?"

"All stopped, of course. A few nights ago, two stags came right up to
the house and quite a troop of the really wild ponies from over
Hawkbridge way. We've never had such a spell of cold in my memory. It
reminded one of the snowstorm in 'Lorna Doone.' - But after all, I told
you all about Woolhanger last night. I want your news."

"I seem to have settled down with the Democrats," he told her. "I do my
best to keep the party in line. The great trades unions are, of course,
our chief difficulty, but I think we are making progress even with them.
Some of the miners' representatives dined with me at the Trocadero the
other night. Good fellows they are, too. There is only one great
difficulty," he went on, "in the consolidation of my party, and that is
to get a little more breadth into the views of these men who represent
the leading industries. They are obsessed with the duties that they owe
to their own artificers and the labour connected with the particular
industry they represent. It is hard to make them see the importance of
any other subject. Yet we need these very men as lawmakers. I want
them to study production and the laws of production from a universal
point of view."

"I can quite understand," she acquiesced sympathetically, "that you have
a difficult class of men to deal with. Tell me what the evening papers
mean by their placards?"

"We had a small tactical success against the Government this afternoon,"
he explained. "It doesn't really amount to anything. We are not ready
for their resignation at the moment, any more than they are ready to
resign."

"You are an object of terror to all my people," she confided smilingly.
"They say that Horlock dare not go to the country and that you could
turn him out to-morrow if you cared to."

"So much for politics," he remarked drily.

"So much for politics," she assented. "And now about yourself?"

"A little finger of flame burning in an empty place," he sighed. "That
is how life seems to me when I take my hand off the plough."

She answered him lightly, but her face softened and her eyes shone with
sympathy.

"Aren't you by way of being just a little sentimental?"

"Perhaps," he admitted. "If I am, let me feel the luxury of it."

"One reads different things of you."

"For instance?"

"Town Topics says that you have become an interesting figure at many
social functions. You must meet attractive people there."

"I only wish that I could find them so," he answered. "London has been
almost feverishly gay lately and every one seems to have discovered a
vogue for entertaining politicians. There seems to be a sort of idea
that dangerous corners may be rubbed off us by a judicious application
of turtle soup and champagne."

"Cynic!" she scoffed pleasantly.

"Well, I don't know," he went on. "From any other point of view, some
of the entertainments to which I have been bidden appear utterly without
meaning. However, it is part of my programme to prove to the world that
we Democrats can open our arms wide enough to include every class in
life. Therefore, I go to many places I should otherwise avoid. I have
studied the attitude of the younger women whom I have approached, purely
impersonally and without the slightest hypersensitiveness. They have
all been perfectly pleasant, perfectly disposed for conversation or any
of the usual social amenities. But they know that I have in the
background a wife. To flirt with a married man of fifty isn't worth
while."

"It appears to me," she said, with a slight note of severity in her
tone, "that you have set your mind upon having a perfectly frivolous
time."

"Not at all," he objected. "I have simply been experimenting."

The service of dinner had now commenced, and with George in the
background, a haughty head waiter a few yards off, and a myrmidon
handing them their dishes with a beatific smile, the conversation
drifted naturally into generalities. When they resumed their more
intimate talk, Tallente felt himself inspired by an ever-increasing
admiration for his companion and her adaptability. During this brief
interval he had seen many admiring and some wondering glances directed
towards Jane and he realised that she was somehow a person entirely
apart from any of the others, more beautiful, more distinguished, more
desirable. Of the Lady Jane ruling at Woolhanger with a high hand,
there was no trace. She looked out upon the gay room with its
voluptuous air, its many couples and little parties carrées, with the
friendly and sympathetic interest of one who finds herself in agreeable
surroundings and whose only desire is to come into touch with them. Her
plain black gown, her simple hat with its single quill, the pearls which
were her sole adornment, all seemed part of her. She appeared wholly
unconscious of the admiration she excited. She who was sometimes
inclined, perhaps, to carry herself a little haughtily in her mother's
drawing-room, was here only anxious to share in the genial atmosphere of
friendliness which the general tone of her surroundings seemed to
demand.

"Well, what was the final result of your efforts towards companionship?"
she enquired, after they had praised the chicken enthusiastically and
the wave of service had momentarily ebbed kitchenwards.

"They have led me to only one conclusion," he answered swiftly.

"Which is?"

"That if you remain on Exmoor and I in Westminster, the affairs of this
country are not likely to prosper."

She laughed softly.

"As though I made any real' difference!"

Then she saw a transformed man. The firm mouth suddenly softened, the
keen bright eyes glowed. A light shone out of his worn face which few
had ever seen there.

"You make all the difference," he whispered. "You of your mercy can
save me from the rocks. I have discovered very late in life, too late,
many would say, that I cannot build the temples of life with hands and
brain alone. Even though the time be short and I have so little to
offer, I am your greedy suitor. I want help, I want sympathy, I want
love."

There was nothing whatever left now of Lady Jane of Woolhanger.
Segerson would probably not have recognised his autocratic mistress.
The most timid of her tenant farmers would have adopted a bold front
with her. She was simply a very beautiful woman, trembling a little,
unsteady, nervous and unsure of herself.

"Oh, I wish you hadn't said that!" she faltered.

"But I must say it," he insisted, with that alien note of tenderness
still throbbing in his tone. "You are not a dabbler in life. You have
never been afraid to stand on your feet, to look at it whole. There is
the solid, undeniable truth. It is a woman's glory to help men on to
the great places, and the strangest thing in all the world is that there
is only one woman for any one man, and for me - you are the only one
woman."

Around them conversation had grown louder, the blue cloud of tobacco
smoke more dense, the odour of cigarettes and coffee more pungent. Down
in the street a wandering musician was singing a little Neapolitan love
song. They heard snatches of it as the door downstairs was opened.

"You have known me for so short a time," she argued. "How can you
possibly be sure that I could give you what you want? And in any case,
how could I give anything except my eager wishes, my friendship - perhaps,
if you will, my affection? But would that bring you content?"

"No!" he answered unhesitatingly. "I want your love, I want you
yourself. You have played a woman's part in life. You haven't been
content to sit down and wait for what fate might bring you. You have
worked out your own destiny and you have shown that you have courage.
Don't disprove it."

She looked him in the eyes, very sweetly, but with the shadow of a great
disturbance in her face.

"I want to help you," she said. "Indeed, I feel more than you can
believe - more than I could have believed possible - the desire, the
longing to help. But what is there you can ask of me beyond my hand in
yours, beyond all the comradeship which a woman who has more in her
heart than she dare own, can give?"

Once more the door was opened below. The voice of the singer came
floating up. Then it was closed again and the little passionate cry
blotted out. His lips moved but he said nothing. It seemed suddenly,
from the light in his face, that he might have been echoing those words
which rang in her ears. She trembled and suddenly held her hand across
the table.

"Hold my fingers," she begged. "These others will think that we have
made a bet or a compact. What does it matter? I want to give you all
that I can. Will you be patient? Will you remember that you have found
your way along a very difficult path to a goal which no one yet has ever
reached? I could tell you more but may not that be enough? I want you
to have something to carry away with you, something not too cold,
something that burns a little with the beginnings of life and love, and,
if you will, perhaps hope. May that content you for a little while, for
you see, although I am not a girl, these things, and thoughts of these
things, are new to me?"

He drew a little breath. It seemed to him that there was no more
beautiful place on earth than this little smoke-hung corner of the
restaurant. The words which escaped from his lips were vibrant,
tremulous.

"I am your slave. I will wait. There is no one like you in the world."



CHAPTER X

Tallente found a distant connection of his waiting for him in his
rooms, on his return from the House at about half-past six, - Spencer
Williams, a young man who, after a brilliant career at Oxford, had
become one of the junior secretaries to the Prime Minister. The young
man rose to his feet at Tallente's entrance and hastened to explain his
visit.

"You'll forgive my waiting, sir," he begged. "Your servant told me that
you were dining out and would be home before seven o'clock to change."

"Quite right, Spencer," Tallente replied. "Glad to see you. Whisky and
soda or cocktail?"

The young man chose a whisky and soda, and Tallente followed suit,
waving his visitor back into his chair and seating himself opposite.

"Get right into the middle of it, please," he enjoined.

"To begin with, then, can you break your engagement and come and dine
with the Chief?"

"Out of the question, even if it were a royal command," was the firm
reply. "My engagement is unbreakable."

"The Chief will be sorry," Williams said. "So am I. Will you go round
to Downing Street and see him afterwards?"



1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 12 14 15 16 17 18 19

Online LibraryE. Phillips OppenheimNobody's Man → online text (page 12 of 19)