E. Phillips Oppenheim.

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"I could," Tallente admitted, "but why? I have nothing to say to him.
I can't conceive what he could have to say to me. There are always
pressmen loitering about Downing Street, who would place the wrong
construction on my visit. You saw all the rubbish they wrote because he
and I talked together for a quarter of an hour at Mrs. Van Fosdyke's?"

"I know all about that," Williams assented, "but this time, Tallente,
there's something in it. The Chief quarrelled with you for the sake of
the old gang. Well, he made a bloomer. The old gang aren't worth
six-pence. They're rather a hindrance than help to legislation, and
when they're wanted they're wobbly, as you saw this afternoon.
Lethbridge went into the lobby with you."

Tallente smiled a little grimly.

"He took particularly good care that I should know that."

"Well, there you are," Williams went on. "The Chief's fed up. I can
talk to you here freely because I'm not an official person. Can you
discuss terms at all for a rapprochement?"

"Out of the question!"

"You mean that you are too much committed to Dartrey and the Democrats?"

"'Committed' to them is scarcely the correct way of putting it,"
Tallente objected. "Their principles are in the main my principles.
They stand for the cause I have championed all my life. Our alliance is
a natural, almost an automatic one."

"It's all very well, sir," Williams argued, "but Dartrey stands for a
Labour Party, pure and simple. You can't govern an Empire by parish
council methods."

"That is where the Democrats come in," Tallente pointed out. "They
have none of the narrower outlook of the Labour Party as you understand
it - of any of the late factions of the Labour Party, perhaps I should
say. The Democrats possess an international outlook. When they
legislate, every class will receive its proper consideration. No class
will be privileged. A man will be ranked according to his production."

Williams smiled with the faint cynicism of clairvoyant youth.

"Sounds a little Utopian, sir," he ventured. "What about Miller?"

"Well, what about him?"

"Are you going to serve with him?"

"Really," Tallente protested, "for a political opponent, or the
representative of a political opponent, you're a trifle on the
inquisitive side."

"It's a matter that you'll have to face sometime or other," the young
man asserted. "I happen to know that Dartrey is committed to Miller."

"I don't see how you can happen to know anything of the sort," Tallente
declared, a little bluntly. "In any case, Spencer, my political
association or nonassociation with Miller is entirely my own affair, and
you can hook it. Remember me to all your people, and give my love to

"Nothing doing, eh?" Williams observed, rising reluctantly to his feet.

"You have perception," Tallente replied.

"The Chief was afraid you might be a little difficult about an
interview. Those pressmen are an infernal nuisance, anyway. What about
sneaking into Downing Street at about midnight, in a cloak and slouch
hat, eh?"

"Too much of the cinema about you, young fellow," Tallente scoffed.
"Run along now. I have to dress."

Tallente held out his hand good-humouredly. His visitor made no
immediate motion to take it.

"There was just one thing more I was asked to mention, sir," he said.
"I will be quite frank if I may. My instructions were not to allude to
it if your attitude were in the least conciliatory."

"Go on," Tallente bade him curtly.

"There has been a rumour going about that some years ago - while the war
was on, in fact - you wrote a very wonderful attack upon the trades
unions. This attack was so bitter in tone, so damning in some of its
facts, and, in short, such a wonderful production, that at the last
moment the late Prime Minister used his influence with you to suspend
its publication. It was held over, and in the meantime the attitude of
the trades unions towards certain phases of the war was modified, and
the collapse of Germany followed soon afterwards. Consequently, that
article was never published."

"You are exceedingly well informed," Tallente admitted. "Pray proceed."

"There is in existence," the young man continued, "a signed copy of that
article. Its publication at the present moment would probably make your
position with the Democratic Party untenable."

"Is this a matter of blackmail?" Tallente asked.

The young man stiffened.

"I am speaking on behalf of the Prime Minister, sir. He desired me to
inform you that the signed copy of that article has been offered to him
within the last few days."

Tallente was silent for several moments. The young man's subtle
intimation was a shock in more ways than one.

"The manuscript to which you refer," he said at last, "was stolen from
my study at Martinhoe under somewhat peculiar conditions."

"Perhaps you would like to explain those conditions to Mr. Horlock,"
Williams suggested.

Tallente held open the door.

"I shall not seek out your Chief," he said, "but I will tell him the
truth about that manuscript if at any time we should come together. In
the meantime, I am perfectly in accord with the view which your Chief no
doubt holds concerning it. The publication of that article at the
present moment would inevitably end my connection with the Democratic
Party and probably close my political career. This is a position which
I should court rather than submit to blackmail direct or indirect."

"My Chief will resent your using such a word, sir," Williams declared.

"Your Chief could have avoided it by a judicious use of the waste-paper
basket and an exercise of the gift of silence." Tallente retorted, as
the young man took his departure.

Horlock came face to face with Tallente the following afternoon, in one
of the corridors of the House and, scarcely troubling about an
invitation, led him forcibly into his private room. He turned his
secretary out and locked the door.

"A cigar?" he suggested.

Tallente shook his head.

"I want to see what's doing, in a few minutes," he said.

"I can tell you that," Horlock declared. "Nothing at all! I was just
off when I happened to see you. You're looking very fit and pleased
with yourself. Is it because of that rotten trick you played on us the
other day?"

"Rotten? I thought it was rather clever of me," Tallente objected.

"Perfectly legitimate, I suppose," the other assented grudgingly.
"That's the worst of having a tactician in opposition."

"You shouldn't have let me get there," was the quick retort.

Horlock drew a paper knife slowly down between his fingers.

"I sent Williams to you yesterday."

"You did. A nice errand for a respectably brought-up young man!"

"Chuck that, Tallente."

"Why? I didn't misunderstand him, did I?"

"Apparently. He told me that you used the word 'blackmail.'"

"I don't think the dictionary supplies a milder equivalent."

"Tallente," said Horlock with a frown, "we'll finish with this once and
for ever. I refused the offer of the manuscript in question."

"I am glad to hear it," was the laconic reply.

"Leaving that out of the question, then, I suppose there's no chance of
your ratting?"

"Not the faintest. I rather fancy I've settled down for good."

Horlock lit a cigarette and leaned back in his chair.

"No good looking impatient, Tallente," he said. "The door's locked and
you know it. You'll have to listen to what I want to say. A few
minutes of your time aren't much to ask for."

"Go ahead," Tallente acquiesced.

"There is only one ambition," Horlock continued, "for an earnest
politician. You know what that is as well as I do. Wouldn't you sooner
be Prime Minister, supported by a recognised and reputable political
party, than try to pull the chestnuts out of the fire for your friends
Dartrey, Miller and company?"

"So this is the last bid, eh?" Tallente observed.

"It's the last bid of all," was the grave answer. "There is nothing

"And what becomes of you?"

"One section of the Press will say that I have shown self-denial and
patriotism greater than any man of my generation and that my name will
be handed down to history as one of the most single-minded statesmen of
the day. Another section will say that I have been forced into a
well-deserved retirement and that it will remain a monument to my
everlasting disgrace that I brought my party to such straits that it was
obliged to compromise with the representative of an untried and unproven
conglomeration of fanatics. A third section - "

"Oh, chuck it!" Tallente interrupted. "Horlock, I appreciate your offer
because I know that there is a large amount of self-denial in it, but I
am glad of an opportunity to end all these discussions. My word is
passed to Dartrey."

"And Miller?" the Prime Minister asked, with calm irony.

Tallente felt the sting and frowned irritably.

"I have had no discussions of any sort with Miller," he answered. "He
has never been represented to me as holding an official position in the

"If you ever succeed in forming a Democratic Government," Horlock said,
"mark my words, you will have to include him."

"If ever I accept any one's offer to form a Government," Tallente
replied, "it will be on one condition and one condition only, which is
that I choose my own Ministers."

"If you become the head of the Democratic Party," Horlock pointed out,
"you will have to take over their pledges."

"I do not agree with you," was the firm reply, "and further, I suggest
most respectfully that this discussion is not agreeable to me."

An expression of hopelessness crept into Horlock's face.

"You're a good fellow, Tallente," he sighed, "and I made a big mistake
when I let you go. I did it to please the moderates and you know how
they've turned out. There isn't one of them worth a row of pins. If
any one ever writes my political biography, they will probably decide
that the parting with you was the greatest of my blunders."

He rose to his feet, swinging the key upon his finger.

"One more word, Tallente," he added. "I want to warn you that so far as
your further progress is concerned, there is a snake in the grass
somewhere. The manuscript of which Williams spoke to you, and which
would of course damn you forever with any party which depended for its
existence even indirectly upon the trades unions, was offered to me,
without any hint at financial return, on the sole condition that I
guaranteed its public production. It is perfectly obvious, therefore,
that there is some one stirring who means harm. I speak to you now only
as a friend and as a well-wisher. Did I understand Williams to say that
the document was stolen from your study at Martinhoe?"

"It was stolen," Tallente replied, "by my secretary, Anthony Palliser,
who disappeared with it one night in August."

"'Disappeared' seems rather a vague term," Horlock remarked.

"A trifle melodramatic, I admit," Tallente assented. "So were the
circumstances of his - disappearance. I can assure you that I have had
the police inspector of fiction asking me curious questions and I am
convinced that down in Devonshire I am still an object of suspicion to
the local gossips."

"I remember reading about the affair at the time," Horlock remarked, as
he unlocked the door. "It never occurred to me, though, to connect it
with anything of this sort. Surely Palliser was a cut above the
ordinary blackmailer?"

Tallente shrugged his shoulders. "A confusion of ethics," he said. "I
dare say you remember that the young man conspired with my wife to boost
me into a peerage behind my back However! - "

"One last word, Tallente," Horlock interrupted. "I am not at liberty to
tell you from what source the offer as to your article came, but I can
tell you this - Palliser was not or did not appear to be connected with
it in any way."

"But I know who was," Tallente exclaimed, with a sudden lightning-like
recollection of that meeting on the railway platform at Woody
Bay. - "Miller!"

Horlock made no answer. To his visitor, however, the whole affair was
now clear.

"Miller must have bought the manuscript from Palliser," he said, "when
he knew what sort of an offer Dartrey was going to make to me and
realised how it would affect him. Horlock, I am not sure, after all,
that I don't rather envy you if you decide to drop out of politics. The
main road is well enough, but the by-ways are pretty filthy."

Horlock remained gravely silent and Tallente passed out of the room,
realising that he had finally severed his connection with orthodox
English politics. The realisation, however, was rather more of a relief
than otherwise. For fifteen years he had been cumbered with precedent
in helping to govern by compromise. Now he was for the clean sweep or
nothing. He strolled into the House and back into his own committee
room, read through the orders of the day and spoke to the Government
Whip. It was, as Horlock had assured him, a dead afternoon. There were
a sheaf of questions being asked, none of which were of the slightest
interest to any one. With a little smile of anticipation upon his lips,
he hurried to the telephone. In a few moments he was speaking to Annie,
Lady Jane's maid.

"Will you give her ladyship a message?" he asked. "Tell her that I am
unexpectedly free for an hour or so, and ask if I may come around and
see her?" The maid was absent from the telephone for less than a minute.
When she returned, her message was brief but satisfactory. Her ladyship
would be exceedingly pleased to see Mr. Tallente.


Tallente found a taxi on the stand and drove at once to Charles Street.
The butler took his hat and stick and conducted him into the spacious
drawing-room upon the first floor. Here he received a shock. The most
natural thing in the world had happened, but an event which he had never
even taken into his calculation. There were half a dozen other callers,
all, save one, women. Jane saw his momentary look of consternation, but
was powerless to send him even an answering message of sympathy. She
held out her hand and welcomed him with a smile.

"This is perfectly charming of you, Mr. Tallente," she said. "I know
how busy you must be in the afternoons, but I am afraid I am
old-fashioned enough to like my men friends to sometimes forget even the
affairs of the nation. You know my sister, I think - Lady Alice
Mountgarron? Aunt, may I present Mr. Tallente - the Countess of
Somerham. Mrs. Ward Levitte - Lady English - oh! and Colonel Fosbrook."

Tallente made the best of a very disappointing situation. He exchanged
bows with his new acquaintances, declined tea and was at once taken
possession of by Lady Somerham, a formidable-looking person in
tortoise-shell-rimmed spectacles, with a rasping voice and a judicial

"So you are the Mr. Tallente," she began, "who Somerham tells me has
achieved the impossible!"

"Upon the face of it," Tallente rejoined, with a smile, "your husband is
proved guilty of an exaggeration."

"Poor Henry!" his wife sighed. "He does get a little hysterical about
politics nowadays. What he says is that you are in a fair way to form a
coherent and united political party out of the various factions of
Labour, a thing which a little time ago no one thought possible."

Tallente promptly disclaimed the achievement.

"Stephen Dartrey is the man who did that," he declared. "I only joined
the Democrats a few months ago."

"But you are their leader," Lady Alice put in.

"Only in the House of Commons," Tallente replied.

"Dartrey is the leader of the party."

"Somerham says that Dartrey is a dreamer," the Countess went on, "that
you are the man of affairs and the actual head of them all."

"Your husband magnifies my position," Tallente assured her.

Mrs. Ward Levitte, the wife of a millionaire and a woman of vogue,
leaned forward and addressed him.

"Do set my mind at rest, Mr. Tallente," she begged. "Are you going to
break up our homes and divide our estates amongst the poor?"

"Is there going to be a revolution?" Lady English asked eagerly. "And
is it true that you are in league with all the Bolshevists on the

Tallente masked his irritation and answered with a smile.

"Civil war," he declared, "commences to-morrow. Every one with a title
is to be interned in an asylum, all country houses are to be turned into
sanatoriums and all estates will be confiscated."

"The tiresome man won't tell us anything," Lady Alice sighed.

"Of course, he won't," Mrs. Ward Levitte observed. "You can't announce
a revolution beforehand truthfully."

"If there is a revolution within the next fifteen years," Tallente said,
"I think it will probably be on behalf of the disenfranchised
aristocracy, who want the vote back again."

Lady English and Mrs. Levitte found something else to talk about
between themselves. Lady Somerham, however, had no intention of letting
Tallente escape.

"You are a neighbour of my niece in Devonshire, I believe?" she asked.

He admitted the fact monosyllabically. He was supremely uncomfortable,
and it seemed to him that Jane, who was conducting an apparently
entertaining conversation with Colonel Fosbrook, might have done
something to rescue him.

"My niece has very broad ideas," Lady Somerham went on. "Some of her
fellow landowners in Devonshire are very much annoyed with the way she
has been getting rid of her property."

"Lady Jane," he pronounced drily, "is in my opinion very wise. She is
anticipating the legislation to come, which will inevitably restore the
land to the people, from whom, in most cases, it was stolen."

"Well, my husband gave two hundred thousand pounds of good, hard-earned
money for Stoughton, where we live," Mrs. Ward Levitte intervened. "So
far as I know, the money wasn't stolen from anybody, and I should say
that the robbery would begin if the Socialists, or whatever they call
themselves, tried to take it away from us to distribute amongst their
followers. What do you think, Mr. Tallente? My husband, as I dare say
you know, is a banker and a very hard-working man."

"I agree with you," he replied. "One of the pleasing features of the
axioms of Socialism adopted by the Democratic Party is that it respects
the rights of the wealthy as well as the rights of the poor man. The
Democrats may - in fact, they most certainly will - legislate to prevent
the hoarding of wealth or to have it handed down to unborn generations,
but I can assure you that it does not propose to interfere with the
ethics of _meum_ and _tuum_."

"I wish I could make out what it's all about," Lady Alice murmured.

"Couldn't you give a drawing-room lecture, Mr. Tallente, and tell us?"
the banker's wife suggested.

"I am unfortunately a little short of time for such missionary
enterprise," Tallente replied, with unappreciated sarcasm. "Dartrey's
volume on 'Socialism in Our Daily Life' will tell you all about it."
"Far too dry," she sighed. "I tried to read it but I never got past the
first half-dozen pages."

"Some day," Tallente observed coolly, "it may be worth your while, all
of you, to try and master the mental inertia which makes thought a
labour; the application which makes a moderately good bridge player
should be sufficient. Otherwise, you may find yourselves living in an
altered state of Society, without any reasonable idea as to how you got
there." Mrs. Ward Levitte turned to her hostess.

"Lady Jane," she begged, "come and rescue us, please. We are being
scolded. Colonel Fosbrook, we need a man to protect us. Mr. Tallente
is threatening us with terrible things."

"We're getting what we asked for," Lady Alice put in quickly.

Colonel Fosbrook caressed for a moment a somewhat scanty moustache. He
was a man of early middle-age, with a high forehead, an aquiline nose
and a somewhat vague expression.

"I'm afraid my protection wouldn't be much use to you," he said,
regarding Tallente with mild interest. "I happen to be one of the few
surviving Tories. I imagine that Mr. Tallente's opinions and mine are
so far apart that even argument would be impossible."

Tallente acquiesced, smiling.

"Besides which, I never argue, outside the House," he added. "You
should stand for Parliament, Colonel Fosbrook, and let us hear once more
the Athanasian Creed of politics. All opposition is wholesome."

Colonel Fosbrook glared. The fact that he had three times stood for
Parliament and three times been defeated was one of the mortifications
of his life. He made his adieux to Jane and departed, and to Tallente's
joy a break-up of the party seemed imminent. Mrs. Ward Levitte drifted
out and Lady English followed suit. Lady Somerham also rose to her
feet, but after a glance at Tallente sat down again.

"My dear Jane," she insisted, "you must dine with us to-night. You
haven't been here long enough to have any engagements, and it always
puts your uncle in such a good temper to hear that you are coming."

Jane shook her head.

"Sorry, aunt," she regretted, "but I am dining with the Temperleys. I
met Diana in Bond Street this morning."

"Thursday, then."

"I am keeping Thursday for - a friend. Saturday I am free."

"Saturday we are going into the country," her aunt said, a little
ungraciously. "Heaven knows what for! Your uncle hates shooting and
always catches cold if he gets his feet wet."

Tallente unwillingly held out his hand to his hostess. He seemed to
have no alternative but to make his adieux. Jane walked with him
towards the door.

"I am horribly disappointed," he confessed, under his breath.

She smiled a little deprecatingly.

"I couldn't help having people here, could I?"

"I suppose not," he answered, with masculine unreasonableness. "I only
know that I wanted to see you alone."

"Men are such schoolboys," she murmured tolerantly. "Even you! I must
see my friends, mustn't I, when they know that I am here and call?"

"About that friend on Thursday night?" he went on.

"I am waiting to hear from him," she answered, "whether he prefers to
dine here or to take me out."

His ill-humour vanished, and with it some of his stiffness of bearing.
His farewell bow from the door to Lady Somerham was distinguished with a
new affability.

"If we may be alone," he said softly, "I should like to come here."

Nevertheless, his visit left him a little disturbed, perhaps a little
irritable. With all the dominant selfishness which is part of a man's
love, he had spent every waking leisure moment since their last meeting
in a world peopled by Jane and himself alone, a world in which any other
would have been an intruder. His eagerly anticipated visit to her had
brought him sharply up against the commonplace facts of their day-by-day
existence. He began to realise that she was without the liberty
accorded to his sex, or to such women as Nora Miall, whose emancipation
was complete. Jane's way through life was guarded by a hundred
irritating conventions. He began to doubt even whether she realised the
full import of what had happened between them. There was nothing gross
about his love, not even a speculation in his mind as to its ultimate
conclusion. He was immersed in a wave of sentimentality. He wanted her
by his side, free from any restraint. He wanted the joy of her
presence, more of those soft, almost reluctant kisses, the mute
obedience of her nature to the sweet and natural impulse of her love.
Of the inevitable end of these things he never thought. He was like a
schoolboy in love for the first time. His desires led him no further
than the mystic joy of her presence, the sweet, passionless content of
propinquity. For the time the rest lay somewhere in a world of golden
promise. The sole right that he burned to claim was the right to have
her continually by his side in the moments when he was freed from his
work, and even with the prospect of the following night before him, he
chafed a little as he reflected that until then he must stand aside and
let others claim her. In a fit of restlessness he abandoned his usual
table in the House of Commons grillroom, and dined instead at the
Sheridan Club, where he drank a great deal of champagne and absorbed
with ready appreciation and amusement the philosophy of the man of
pleasure. This was one of the impulses which kept his nature pliant
even in the midst of these days of crisis.


Whilst Tallente was trying to make up for the years of pleasant
good-fellowship which his overstudious life had cost him and to recover
touch with the friends of his earlier days, Stephen Dartrey, filled with
a queer sense of impending disaster, was climbing the steps to Nora's
flat. On the last landing he lingered for a moment and clenched his

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Online LibraryE. Phillips OppenheimNobody's Man → online text (page 13 of 19)