E. Phillips Oppenheim.

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"The young man and I differed last Tuesday night," he said. "In the
language of the novelists, he walked out into the night and disappeared.
Only an hour before dinner, too. Nothing has been heard of him since."

"What a fatuous thing to do!" she remarked. "Shall you have to get
another secretary?"

"Presently," he assented. "Just for the moment I am rather enjoying
doing nothing."

She leaned back amongst the cushions of her chair and looked across at
him with interest, an interest which presently drifted into sympathy.
Even the lightness of his tone could not mask the inwritten weariness of
the man, the tired droop of the mouth, and the lacklustre eyes.

"Do you know," she said, "I have never been more intrigued than when I
heard you were really coming down here. Last summer I was in
Scotland - in fact I have been away every time the Manor has been open.
I am so anxious to know whether you like this part of the world."

"I like it so much," he replied, "that I feel like settling here for the
rest of my life."

She shook her head.

"You will never be able to do that," she said, "at least not for many
years. The country will need so much of your time. But it is
delightful to think that you may come here for your holidays."

"If you read the newspapers," he remarked, a little grimly, "you might
not be so sure that the country is clamouring for my services."

She waved away his speech with a little gesture of contempt.

"Rubbish! Your defeat at Hellesfield was a matter of political jobbery.
Any one could see through that. Horlock ought never to have sent you
there. He ought to have found you a perfectly safe seat, and of course
he will have to do it."

He shook his head.

"I am not so sure. Horlock resents my defeat almost as though it were a
personal matter. Besides, it is an age of young men, Lady Jane."

"Young men!" she scoffed. "But you are young."

"Am I?" he answered, a little sadly. "I am not feeling it just now.
Besides, there is something wrong about my enthusiasms. They are
becoming altogether too pastoral. I am rather thinking of taking up the
cultivation of roses and of making a terraced garden down to the sea.
Do you know anything about gardening, Lady Jane?"

"Of course I do," she answered, a little impatiently. "A very excellent
hobby it is for women and dreamers and elderly men. There is plenty of
time for you to take up such a pursuit when you have finished your

"Fifteen thousand intelligent voters have just done their best to tell
me that it is already finished," he sighed.

She made a little grimace.

"Am I going to be disappointed in you, I wonder?" she asked. "I don't
think so. You surely wouldn't let a little affair like one election
drive you out of public life? It was so obvious that you were made the
victim for Horlock's growing unpopularity in the country. Haven't you
realised that yourself - or perhaps you don't care to talk about these
things to an ignoramus such as I am?"

"Please don't believe that," he begged hastily. "I think yours is
really the common-sense view of the matter. Only," he went on, "I have
always represented, amongst the coalitionists, the moderate Socialist,
the views of those men who recognise the power and force of the coming
democracy, and desire to have legislation attuned to it. Yet it was the
Democratic vote which upset me at Hellesfield."

"That was entirely a matter of faction," she persisted. "That horrible
person Miller was sent down there, for some reason or other, to make
trouble. I believe if the election had been delayed another week, and
you had been able to make two more speeches like you did at the Corn
Exchange, you would have got in."

He looked at her in some surprise.

"That is exactly what I thought myself," he agreed. "How on earth do
you come to know all these things?"

"I take an interest in your career," she said, smiling at him, "and I
hate to see you so dejected without cause."

He felt a little thrill at her words. A queer new sense of
companionship stirred in his pulses. The bitterness of his suppressed
disappointment was suddenly soothed. There was something of the
excitement of the discoverer, too, in these new sensations. It seemed
to him that he was finding something which had been choked out of his
life and which was yet a real and natural part of it.

"You will make an awful nuisance of me if you don't mind," he warned
her. "If you encourage me like this, you will develop the most juvenile
of all failings - you will make me want to talk about myself. I am
beginning to feel terribly egotistical already."

She leaned a little towards him. Her mouth was soft with sweet and
feminine tenderness, her eyes warm with kindness.

"That is just what I hoped I might succeed in doing," she declared. "I
have been interested in your career ever since I had the faintest idea
of what politics meant. You could not give me a greater happiness than
to talk to me - about yourself."


Very soon tea was brought in. The homely service of the meal, and
Robert's plain clothes, seemed to demand some sort of explanation. It
was she who provided the opening.

"Will your wife be long away?" she enquired.

Tallente looked at his guest thoughtfully. She was pouring out tea from
an ordinary brown earthenware pot with an air of complete absorption in
her task. The friendliness of her seemed somehow to warm the atmosphere
of the room, even as her sympathy had stolen into the frozen places of
his life. For the moment he ignored her question. His eyes appraised
her critically, reminiscently. There was something vaguely familiar in
the frank sweetness of her tone and manner.

"I am going to make the most idiotically commonplace remark," he said.
"I cannot believe that this is the first time we have met."

"It isn't," she replied, helping herself to strawberry

"Are you in earnest?" he asked, puzzled.

"Do you mean that I have spoken to you?"


"Not only that but you have made me a present."

He searched the recesses of his memory in vain. She smiled at his
perplexity and began to count on her fingers.

"Let me see," she said, "exactly fourteen years ago you arrived in Paris
from London on a confidential mission to a certain person."

"To Lord Peters!" he exclaimed.

She nodded.

"You had half an hour to spare after you had finished your business, and
you begged to see the young people. Maggie Peters was always a friend
of yours. You came into the morning-room and I was there."


"Yes! I was at school in Paris, and I was spending my half-holiday with

"The little brown girl!" he murmured. "I never heard your name, and
when I sent the chocolates I had to send them to 'the young lady in
brown.' Of course I remember! But your hair was down your back, you had
freckles, and you were as silent as a mouse."

"You see how much better my memory is than yours," she laughed.

"I am not so sure," he objected. "You took me for the gardener just

"Not when you came down the steps," she protested, "and besides, it is
your own fault for wearing such atrociously old clothes."

"They shall be given away to-morrow," he promised.

"I should think so," she replied. "And you might part with the battered
straw hat you were wearing, at the same time."

"It shall be done," he promised meekly.

She became reminiscent.

"We were all so interested in you in those days. Lord Peters told us,
after you were gone, that some day you would be Prime Minister."

"I am afraid," he sighed, "that I have disappointed most of my friends."

"You have disappointed no one," she assured him firmly. "You will
disappoint no one. You are the one person in politics who has kept a
steadfast course, and if you have lost ground a little in the country,
and slipped out of people's political appreciation during the last
decade, don't we all know why? Every one of your friends - and your
wife, of course," she put in hastily, "must be proud that you have lost
ground. There isn't another man in the country who gave up a great
political career to learn his drill in a cadet corps, who actually
served in the trenches through the most terrible battles of the war, and
came out of it a Brigadier-General with all your distinctions."

He felt his heart suddenly swell. No one had ever spoken to him like
this. The newspapers had been complimentary for a day and had accepted
the verdict of circumstances the next. His wife had simply been the
reflex of other people's opinion and the trend of events.

"You make me feel," he told her earnestly, "almost for the first time,
that after all it was worth while."

The slight unsteadiness of his tone at first surprised, then brought her
almost to the point of confusion. Their eyes met - a startled glance on
her part, merely to assure herself that he was in earnest - and
afterwards there was a moment's embarrassment. She accepted a cigarette
and went back to her easy-chair.

"You did not answer the question I asked you a few minutes ago," she
reminded him. "When is your wife returning?"

The shadow was back on his face.

"Lady Jane," he said, "if it were not that we are old friends, dating
from that box of chocolates, remember, I might have felt that I must
make you some sort of a formal reply. But as it is, I shall tell you
the truth. My wife is not coming hack."

"Not at all?" she exclaimed.

"To me, never," he answered. "We have separated."

"I am so very sorry," she said, after a moment's startled silence. "I
am afraid that I asked a tactless question, but how could I know?"

"There was nothing tactless about it," he assured her. "It makes it
much easier for me to tell you. I married my wife thirteen years ago
because I believed that her wealth would help me in my career. She
married me because she was an American with ambitions, anxious to find a
definite place in English society. She has been disappointed in me.
Other circumstances have now presented themselves. I have discovered
that my wife's affections are bestowed elsewhere. To be perfectly
honest, the discovery was a relief to me."

"So that is why you are living down here like this?" she murmured.

"Precisely! The one thing for which I am grateful," he went on, "is
that I always refused to let my wife take a big country house. I
insisted upon an unpretentious place for the times when I could rest. I
think that I shall settle down here altogether. I can just afford to
live here if I shoot plenty of rabbits, and if Robert's rheumatism is
not too bad for him to look after the vegetable garden."

"Of course you are talking nonsense," she pronounced, a little curtly.

"Why nonsense?"

"You must go back to your work," she insisted.

"Keep this place for your holiday moments, certainly, but for the rest,
to talk of settling down here is simply wicked."

"What is my work?" he asked. "I tell you frankly that I do not know
where I belong. A very intelligent constituency, stuffed up to the
throat with schoolboard education, has determined that it would prefer a
representative who has changed his politics already four times. I seem
to be nobody's man. Horlock at heart is frightened of me, because he is
convinced that I am not sound, and he has only tried to make use of me
as a sop to democracy. The Whigs hate me like poison, hate me even
worse than Horlock. If I were in Parliament, I should not know which
Party to support. I think I shall devote my time to roses."

"And between September and May?"

"I shall hibernate and think about them."

"Of course," she said, with the air of one humoring a child, "you are
not in earnest. You have just been through a very painful experience
and you are suffering from it. As for the rest, you are talking

"Explain, please," he begged.

"You said just now that you did not know where your place was," she
continued. "You called yourself nobody's man. Why, the most ignorant
person who thinks about things could tell you where you belong. Even I
could tell you."

"Please do," he invited.

She rose to her feet.

"Walk round the garden with me," she begged, brushing the cigarette ash
from her skirt. "You know what a terrible out-of-door person I am.
This room seems to me close. I want to smell the sea from one of those
wonderful lookouts of yours."

He walked with her along one of the lower paths, deliberately avoiding
the upper lookouts. They came presently to a grass-grown pier. She
stood at the end, her firm, capable fingers clenching the stone wall,
her eyes looking seaward.

"I will tell you where you belong," she said. "In your heart you must
know it, but you are suffering from that reaction which comes from
failure to those people who are not used to failure. You belong to the
head of things. You should hold up your right, hand, and the party you
should lead should form itself about you. No, don't interrupt me," she
went on. "You and all of us know that the country is in a bad way. She
is feeling all the evils of a too-great prosperity, thrust upon her
after a period of suffering. You can see the dangers ahead - I learnt
them first from you in the pages of the reviews, when after the war you
foretold the exact position in which we find ourselves to-day.
Industrial wealth means the building up of a new democracy. The
democracy already exists but it is unrepresented, because those people
who should form its bulwark and its strength are attached to various
factions of what is called the Labour Party. They don't know themselves
yet. No Rienzi has arisen to hold up the looking-glass. If some one
does not teach them to find themselves, there will be trouble. Mind, I
am only repeating what you have told others."

"It is all true," he agreed.

"Then can't you see," she continued eagerly, "what party it is to which
you ought to attach yourself - the party which has broken up now into
half a dozen factions? They are all misnamed but that is no matter.
You should stand for Parliament as a Labour or a Socialist candidate,
because you understand what the people want and what they ought to have.
You should draw up a new and final programme."

"You are a wonderful person," he said with conviction, "but like all
people who are clear-sighted and who have imagination, you are also a
theorist. I believe your idea is the true one, but to stand for
Parliament as a Labour member you have to belong to one of the
acknowledged factions to be sure of any support at all. An independent
member can count his votes by the capful."

"That is the old system," she pointed out firmly. "It is for you to
introduce a new one. If necessary, you must stoop to political cunning.
You should make use of those very factions until you are strong enough
to stand by yourself. Through their enmity amongst themselves, one of
them would come to your side, anyway. But I should like to see you
discard all old parliamentary methods. I should like to see you speak
to the heart of the man who is going to record his vote."

"It is a slow matter to win votes in units," he reminded her.

"But it is the real way," she insisted. "Voting by party and government
by party will soon come to an end. It must. All that it needs is a
strong man with a definite programme of his own, to attack the whole

He looked away from the sea towards the woman by his side. The wind was
blowing in her face, blowing back little strands of her tightly coiled
hair, blowing back her coat and skirt, outlining her figure with soft
and graceful distinction. She was young, healthy and splendid, full of
all the enthusiasm of her age. He sighed a little bitterly.

"All that you say," he reminded her, "should have been said to me by the
little brown girl in Paris, years ago. I am too old now for great

She turned towards him with the pitying yet pleasant air of one who
would correct a child.

"You are forty-nine years old and three months," she said.

"How on earth did you know that?" he demanded.

She smiled.

"A valuable little red book called 'Who's Who.' You see, it is no use
your trying to pose as a Methuselah. For a politician you are a young
man. You have time and strength for the greatest of all tasks. Find
some other excuse, sir, if you talk of laying down the sword and picking
up the shuttle."

He looked back seawards. His eyes were following the flight of a
seagull, wheeling in the sunlight.

"I suppose you are right," he acknowledged. "No man is too old for

"I beg your pardon, sir."

They turned abruptly around. They had been so engrossed that they had
not noticed the sound of footsteps. Robert, a little out of breath, was
standing at attention. There was a disturbed look in his face, a tremor
in his voice.

"I beg your pardon, sir," he repeated, "there is - some one here to see

"Some one?" Tallente repeated impatiently.

Robert leaned a little forward. The effort at lowering his voice only
made his hoarse whisper sound more agitated.

"A police inspector, sir, from Barnstaple, is waiting in the study."


Mr Inspector Gillian of Barnstaple had no idea of denying his
profession. He had travelled over in a specially hired motor-car, and
he was wearing his best uniform. He rose to his feet at Tallente's
entrance and saluted a little ponderously.

"Mr. Andrew Tallente, sir?" he enquired.

Tallente silently admitted his identity, waved the inspector back to his
seat - the one high-backed and uncomfortable chair in the room - and took
an easy-chair himself.

"I have come over, sir," the man continued, "according to instructions
received by telephone from Scotland Yard. My business is to ask you a
few questions concerning the disappearance of the Honourable Anthony
Palliser, who was, I am given to understand, your secretary."

"Dear me!" Tallente exclaimed. "I had no idea that the young man's
temporary absence from polite society would be turned into a
melodramatic disappearance."

The inspector took mental note of the levity in Tallente's tone, and

"The Honourable Anthony Palliser disappeared from here, sir, on Tuesday
night last, the night of your return from London," he said. "I have
come to ask you certain questions with reference to that disappearance."

"Go ahead," Tallente begged. "Care to smoke a cigar?"

"Not whilst on duty, thank you, sir," was the dignified reply.

"You will forgive my cigarette," Tallente observed, lighting one. "Now
you can go ahead as fast as you like."

"Question number one is this, sir. I wish to know whether Mr.
Palliser's abrupt departure from the Manor was due to any disagreement
with you?"

"In a sense I suppose it was," the other acknowledged. "I turned him
out of the house."

The inspector did not attempt to conceal his gratification. He made a
voluminous note in his pocketbook.

"Am I to conclude, then, that there was a quarrel?" he enquired.

"I do not quarrel with people to whom I pay a salary," Tallente replied.

"When you say that you turned him out of the house, that rather implies
a quarrel, doesn't it? It might even imply - blows."

"You can put your own construction upon it," was the cool reply.

"Had you any idea where the honourable Anthony Palliser was going to?"

"I suggested the devil," Tallente confided blandly. "I expect he will
get there some time. I put up with him because I knew his father, but
he is not a young man to make a fuss about."

The inspector was a little staggered.

"I am to conclude, then," he said, "that you were dissatisfied with his
work as your secretary?"

"Absolutely," was the firm reply. "You have no idea what a mess he was
liable to make of things if he was left alone."

The inspector coughed.

"Mr. Tallente, sir," he said, "my instructions are to ask you to
disclose the nature of your displeasure, if any, with the Honourable Mr.
Anthony Palliser. In plain words, Scotland Yard desires to know why he
was turned away from his place at a moment's notice."

"I suppose it is the duty of Scotland Yard to be inquisitive in cases of
this sort," Tallente observed. "You can report to them the whole of the
valuable information with which I have already furnished you, and you
can add that I absolutely refuse to give any information respecting
the - er - difference of opinion between the young man and myself."

The inspector did not conceal his dissatisfaction.

"I shall ask, you, sir," he said with dignity, "to reconsider that
decision. Remember that it is the police who ask, and in cases of this
sort they have special privileges."

"As soon as any criminal case arises from Anthony Palliser's
disappearance," Tallente pointed out, "you will be in a position to ask
me questions from a different standpoint. For the present I have given
you just as much information as I feel inclined to. Shall we leave it
at that?"

The inspector appeared to have become hard of hearing. He did not
attempt to rise from his chair.

"Being your private secretary, sir," he said, "the Honourable Anthony
Palliser would no doubt have access to your private papers?"

"Naturally," Tallente conceded.

"There might be amongst them papers of importance, papers whose
possession by parties in the other camp of politics - "

"Stop!" Tallente interrupted. "Inspector Gillan, you are an astute man.
Excuse me."

He crossed the room and, with a key which he took from a chain attached
to his trouser button, opened a small but powerful safe fitted into the
wall. He opened it confidently enough, gazed inside and remained for a
moment transfixed. Then he took up a few little packets of papers,
glanced them through and replaced them. He still stood there, dangling
the key in his hard. The inspector watched him curiously.

"Anything missing, sir?" he asked.

Tallente swung the door to and came back to his chair.

"Yes!" he admitted.

"Can I make a note of the nature of the loss, sir?" the man asked,
moistening his pencil.

"A political paper of some personal consequence," Tallente replied.
"Its absence disquiets me. It also confirms my belief that Palliser is
lying doggo for a time."

"A hint as to the contents of the missing paper would be very
acceptable, sir," Inspector Gillian begged.

Tallente shook his head.

"For the present," he decided, "I can only repeat what I said a few
moments ago - I have given you just as much information as I feel
inclined to."

The inspector rose to his feet.

"My report will not be wholly satisfactory to Scotland Yard, sir," he

"My experience of the estimable body is that they take a lot of
satisfying," Tallente replied. "Will you take anything before you go,

"Nothing whatever, thank you, sir. At the risk of annoying you, I am
bound to ask this question. Will you tell me whether anything in the
nature of blows passed between you and the Honourable Anthony Palliser,
previous to his leaving your house?"

"I will not even satisfy your curiosity to that extent," Tallente

"It will be my duty, sir," the inspector said ponderously, "to examine
some of your servants."

"Scotland Yard can do that for themselves," Tallente observed. "My wife
and the greater part of the domestic staff left here for London a week

The representative of the law saluted solemnly.

"I am sorry that you have not felt inclined to treat me with more
confidence in this matter, Mr. Tallente," he said.

He took his leave then. Tallente heard him conversing for some time
with Robert and saw him in the garden, interviewing the small boy.
Afterwards, he climbed into his car and drove away. Tallente opened his
safe and once more let the little array of folded papers slip through
his hands. Then he rang the bell for Robert, who presently appeared.

"The inspector has quite finished with you?" his master asked.

Robert was a portly man, a little unhealthy in colour and a little short
of breath. He had been gassed in the war and his nerves were not what
they had been. It was obvious, as he stood on the other side of the
table, that he was trembling.

"Quite, sir. He was enquiring about Mr. Palliser."

His master nodded.

"I am afraid he will find it a little difficult to obtain any
information round here," he remarked. "There are certain things
connected with that young man which may throw a new light upon his

"Indeed, sir?" Robert murmured.

Tallente glanced towards the safe.

"Robert," he confided, "I have been robbed."

The man started a little.

"Indeed, sir?" he replied. "Nothing very valuable, I hope?"

"I have been robbed of papers," Tallente said quietly, "which in the

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Online LibraryE. Phillips OppenheimNobody's Man → online text (page 2 of 19)