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should be yeomen citizens of the best possible type. Of course, all
this sort of thing is so much easier in the country. Very often, in the
winter nights here, I waste my time trying to think out your greater

"Problems," he observed, "which the good people of Hellesfield have just
decided that I am not the man to solve."

"An election counts for nothing," she declared. "The merest whim will
lead thousands of voters into the wrong polling booth. Besides, nearly
all the papers admit that your defeat was owing to a political intrigue.
The very men who should have supported you - who had promised to support
you, in fact - went against you at the last moment. That was entirely
due to Miller, wasn't it?"

"Miller has been my political bête noir for years," he confessed. "To
me he represents the ignominious pacifist, whereas to him I represent
the sabre-rattling jingo. I got the best of it while the war was on.
To-day it seems to me that he has an undue share of influence in the

"Who are the men who really represent what you and I would understand as
Labour?" she asked.

"That is too difficult a question to answer offhand," he replied.
"Personally, I have come to the conclusion that Labour is
unrepresentable - Labour as a cause. There are too many of the people
yet who haven't vision."

They passed into the cool, geranium-scented hall. She pointed to an
easy-chair by the side of which was set, on a small mahogany table, a
silver cocktail shaker and two glasses.

"Please be as comfortable as you can," she begged, "for a quarter of an
hour. If you like to wash, a touch of the bell there will bring Morton.
I must change my clothes. I had to ride out to one of the outlying
farms this morning, and we came back rather quickly."

She moved about the hall as she spoke, putting little things to rights.
Then she passed up the circular staircase. At the bend she looked back
and caught him watching her. She waved her hand with a little less than
her usual frankness. Tallente had forgotten for a moment his
whereabouts, his fatigue, his general weariness. He had turned around
in his chair and was watching her. She found something in the very
intensity of his gaze disturbing, vaguely analogous to certain
half-formed thoughts of her own. She called out some light remark,
scoffed at herself, and ran lightly out of sight, calling to her maid as
she went.


Luncheon was served in a small room at the back of the house. Through
the wide-flung French windows was a vista of terraced walks, the two
sunken tennis lawns, a walled garden leading into an orchard, and
beyond, the great wood-hung cleft in the hills, on either side of which
the pastoral fields, like little squares, stretched away upwards. From
here there was no trace of the more barren, unkinder side of the
moorland. The succession of rich colours merged at last into the dim,
pearly hue where sky and cloud met, in the golden haze of the August
heat, a haze more like a sort of transparent filminess than anything
which really obscured.

Lady Jane, whose gift of femininity had triumphed even over her farm
clothes, seemed to Tallente to convey a curiously mingled impression of
restfulness and delicate charm in her cool, white muslin dress, low at
the neck, the Paquin-made garment of an Aphrodite. She talked to him
with all the charm of an accomplished hostess, and yet with the
occasional fascinating reserve of the woman who finds her companion
something more than ordinarily sympathetic. The butler served them
unattended from the sideboard, but before luncheon was half way through
they dispensed with his services.

"I suppose it has occurred to you by this time, Mr. Tallente," she
said, as she watched the coffee in a glass machine by her side, "that I
am a very unconventional person."

"Whatever you are," he replied, "I am grateful for."

"Cryptic, but with quite a nice sort of sound about it," she observed,
smiling. "Tell me honestly, though, aren't you surprised to find me
living here quite alone?"

"It seems to me perfectly natural," he answered.

"I live without a chaperon," she went on, "because a chaperon called by
that name would bore me terribly. As a matter of fact, though, there is
generally some one staying here. I find it easy enough to persuade my
friends and some of my relatives that a corner of Exmoor is not half a
bad place in the spring and summer. It is through the winter that I am
generally avoided."

"I have always had a fancy to spend a winter on Exmoor," he confided.

"It has its compensations," she agreed, "apart, of course, from the

He felt the desire to speak of more vital things. What did hunting or
chaperons more or less matter to the Lady Janes of the world! Already
he knew enough of her to be sure that she would have her way in any
crisis that might arise. "How much of the year," he asked, "do you
actually spend here?"

"As much as I can."

"You are content to be here alone, even in the winter?"

"More contented than I should be anywhere else," she assured him.
"There is always plenty to do, useful work, too - things that count."


"Bores me terribly," she confessed.

"Foreign travel?"

She nodded more tolerantly.

"I have done a little of it," she said. "I should love to do more, but
travel as travel is such an unsatisfying thing. If a place attracts
you, you want to imbibe it. Travel leaves you no time to do anything
but sniff. Life is so short. One must concentrate or one achieves
nothing. I know what the general idea of a stay-at-home is," she went
on. "Many of my friends consider me narrow. Perhaps I am. Anyhow, I
prefer to lead a complete and, I believe, useful life here, to looking
back in later years upon that hotchpotch of lurid sensations, tangled
impressions and restless moments that most of them call life."

"You display an amazing amount of philosophy for your years," he
ventured, after a little hesitation. "There is one instinct, however,
which you seem to ignore."

"What is it, please?"

"Shall I call it the gregarious one, the desire for companionship of
young people of your own age?"

She shrugged her shoulders. She had the air of one faintly amused by
his diffidence.

"You mean that I ought to be husband hunting," she said. "I quite admit
that a husband would be a very wonderful addition to life. I have none
of the sentiments of the old maid. On the other hand, I am rather a
fatalist. If any man is likely to come my way whom I should care to
marry, he is just as likely to find me here as though I tramped the
thoroughfares of the world, searching for him. At last!" she went on,
in a changed tone, as she poured out his coffee. "I do hope you will
find it good. The cigarettes are at your elbow. This is quite one of
the moments of life, isn't it?"

He agreed with her emphatically.

"A counsel of perfection," he murmured, as he sniffed the delicate
Turkish tobacco. "Tell me some more about yourself?"

She shook her head.

"I am much too selfish a person," she declared, "and nothing that I do
or say or am amounts to very much. I want you to let me a little way
into your life. Talk either about your soldiering or your politics.
You have been a Cabinet Minister and you will be again. Tell me what it
feels like to be one of the world's governors?"

"Let us finish talking about you first," he begged. "You spoke quite
frankly of a husband. Tell me, have you made up your mind what manner
of man he must be?"

"Not in the least. I am content to leave that entirely to fate."

"Bucolic? Intellectual? An artist? A man of affairs?"

She made a little grimace.

"How can I tell? I cannot conceive caring for an ordinary person, but
then every woman feels like that. And, you see, if I did care, he
wouldn't be ordinary - to me. And so far as I am concerned," she
insisted, with a shade of restlessness in her manner, "that finishes the
subject. You must please devote yourself to telling me at least some
of the things I want to know. What is the use of having one of the
world's successful men tête-a-tête, a prisoner to my hospitality, unless
I can make him gratify my curiosity?"

The thought created by her words burned through his mind like a flash of
destroying lightning.

"One of the world's successful men," he repeated. "Is that how I seem
to you?"

"And to the world," she asserted.

He shook his head sadly.

"I have worked very hard," he said. "I have been very ambitious. A few
of my ambitions have been gratified, but the glory of them has passed
with attainment. Now I enter upon the last lap and I possess none of
the things I started out in life to achieve."

"But how absurd!" she exclaimed. "You are one of our great politicians.
You would have to be reckoned with in any regrouping of parties."

"Without even a seat in the House of Commons," he reminded her bitterly.
"And again, how can a man be a great politician when there are no
politics? The confusion amongst the parties has become chaos, and I for
one have not been clear-sighted enough to see my way through."

"Of course, I know vaguely what you mean," she said, "but remember that
I am only a newspaper-educated politician. Can't you be a little more

He lit another cigarette and smoked restlessly for a moment.

"I'll try and explain, if I can," he went on. "To be a successful
politician, from the standard which you or I would aim at, a man needs
not only political insight, but he needs to be able to adopt his views
to the practical programme of one of the existing parties, or else to be
strong enough to form a party of his own. That is where I have come to
the cul-de-sac in my career. It was my ambition to guide the working
classes of the country into their rightful place in our social scheme,
but I have also always been an intensely keen Imperialist, and therefore
at daggers drawn with many of the so-called Labour leaders. The
consequence has been that for ten years I have been hanging on to the
thin edge of nothing, a member of the Coalition Government, a member by
sufferance of a hotchpotch party which was created by the combination of
the Radicals and the Unionists with the sole idea of seeing the country
through its great crisis. All legislation, in the wider sense of the
term, had to be shelved while the country was in danger and while it was
recovering itself. That time I spent striving to educate the people I
wanted to represent, striving to make them see reason, to combat the two
elements in their outlook which have been their eternal drawback, the
elements of blatant selfishness and greedy ignorance. Well, I failed.
That is all there is about it - I failed. No party claims me. I haven't
even a seat in the House of Commons. I am nearly fifty years old and I
am tired."

"Nearly fifty years old!" she repeated. "But what is that? You
have - health, you are strong and well, there is nothing a younger man
can do that you cannot. Why do you worry about your age?"

"Perhaps," he admitted, with a faint smile, and an innate compulsion to
tell her of the thought which had lurked behind, "because you are so
marvelously young."

"Absurd!" she scoffed. "I am twenty-nine years old - practically thirty.
That is to say, with the usual twenty years' allowance, you and I are of
the same age."

He looked across at her, across the lace-draped table with its bowls of
fruit, its richly-cut decanter of wine, its low bowl of roses, its haze
of cigarette smoke. She was leaning back in her chair, her head resting
upon the fingers of one hand. Her face seemed alive with so many
emotions. She was so anxious to console, so interested in her
companion, herself, and the moment. He felt something unexpected and

"I would to God I could look at it like that!" he exclaimed suddenly.

The words had left his lips before he was conscious that the thought
which had lain at the back of them had found expression in his tone and
glance. Just at first they produced no other effect in her save that
evidenced by the gently upraised eyebrows, the sweetly tolerant smile.
And then a sudden cloud, scarcely of discomfiture, certainly not of
displeasure, more of unrest, swept across her face. Her eyes no longer
met his so clearly and frankly. There was a little mist there and a
silence. She was looking away through the windows to the dim, pearly
line of blue, the actual horizon of things present. Her pulses were
scarcely steady. She was possessed to a full extent of the her
qualities of courage, physical and spiritual, yet at that moment she
felt a wave of curious fear, the fear of the idealist that she may not
be true to herself.

The moment passed and she looked at him with a smile. An innate gift of
concealment, the heritage of her sex, came to her rescue, but she felt,
somehow or other, as though she had passed through one of the crises of
her life - that she could never be quite the same again. She had ceased
for those few seconds to be natural.

"What does that wish mean?" she asked. "Do you mean that you would like
to agree with me, or would you like to be twenty-nine?"

He too turned his back upon that little pool of emotion, did his best to
be natural and easy, to shut out the memory of that flaming moment.

"At twenty-nine," he told her, "I was First Secretary at St.
Petersburg. I am afraid that I was rather a dull dog, too. All Russia,
even then, was seething, and I was trying to understand. I never did.
No one ever understood Russia. The explanation of all that has happened
there is simply the eternal duplication of history - a huge class of
people, physically omnipotent, conscious of wrongs, unintelligent, and
led by false prophets. All revolutions are the same. The purging is
too severe, so the good remains undone."

There followed a silence, purposeful on her port, scarcely realised by
him. She sought for means of escape, to bring their conversation down
to the level where alone safety lay. She moved her chair a little
farther back into the scented chamber, as though she found the sunlight
too dazzling.

"You are like so many of the men who work for us," she said. "You are
just a little tired, aren't you? You come down here to rest, and I dig
up all the old problems and ask you to vex yourself with them. We must
talk about slighter things. You are going to shoot here this
season - perhaps hunt, later on?"

"I do not think so," he answered. "I have forgotten what sports mean.
I may take a gun out sometimes. There is a little shooting that goes
with the Manor, but very few birds, I believe. The last ten years seem
to have driven all those things out of one's mind."

"Don't you think that you are inclined to take life a little too
earnestly?" she asked. "One should have amusements."

"I may feel the necessity," he replied, "but it is not easy to take up
one's earlier pleasures at my time of life."

"Don't think me inquisitive," she went on, "but, as I told you, I have
looked you up in one of those wonderful books which tell us everything
about everybody. You were a Double Blue at Oxford."

"Racquets and cricket," he assented. "Neither of them much use to me

"Racquets would help you with lawn tennis," she said, "but beyond that I
find that not a dozen years ago you were a scratch golfer, and you
certainly won the amateur championship of Italy."

"It is eleven years since I touched a club," he told her.

"Then you ought to be ashamed of yourself," she declared. "Games are
part of an Englishman's life, and when he neglects them altogether there
is something wrong. I shall insist upon your taking up lawn tennis
again. I have two beautiful courts there, and very seldom any one to
play with who has the least idea of the game."

His eyes rested for a moment upon the smoothly shaven lawns.

"So you think that regeneration may come to me through lawn tennis?" he

"And why not? You are taking yourself far too seriously, you know. How
do you expect regeneration to come?"

"Shall I tell you what it is I lack?" he answered suddenly. "Incentive.
I think my will has suddenly grown flabby, the ego in me unresponsive.
You know the moods in which one asks oneself whether it is worth while,
whether anything is worth while. Well, I am there at the crossroads. I
think I feel more inclined to look for a seat than to go on."

"The strongest of us need to rest sometimes," she agreed quietly.

He relapsed into a silence so apparently deliberate that she accepted it
as a respite for herself also. From the greater seclusion of her
shadowy seat, she found herself presently able to watch him
unnoticed, - the brooding melancholy of his face, the nervous,
unsatisfied mouth, the discontent of his sombre brows. Then, even as
she watched, the change in his expression startled her. His eyes were
fixed upon the narrow ribbon of road which twisted around the other side
of the house and led over the bleaker moors, seawards. The look puzzled
her, gave her an uncomfortable feeling. Its note of appreciation seemed
to her inexplicable. With a quaint, electrical sympathy, he caught the
unspoken question in her eyes and translated it.

"You are beginning to doubt me," he said. "You are wondering if the
shadow I carry with me is not something more than the mere depression of
a man who has failed."

"You have not failed," she declared, "and I never doubt you, but there
was something in your face just then which was strange, something alien
to our talk. It was as though you saw something ominous in the

"It is true," he admitted. "In the distance I can see the car I ordered
to come and fetch me. There is a passenger - a man in the tonneau. I am
wondering who he is."

"Some one to whom your man has given a lift, perhaps," she suggested.

He shook his head.

"I have another feeling - perhaps I should say an apprehension. It is
some one who brings news."

"Political or - domestic?"

"Neither," he answered. "I thought that Fate had dealt me out most of
her evil tricks when I came down here, a political outcast. She had
another one up her sleeve, however. Do you read your morning papers?"

"Every day," she confessed. "Is it a weakness?"

"Not at all."

"You read of the disappearance of the Honourable Anthony Palliser?"

"Of course," she answered. "Besides, you told me about it, did you
not, yesterday afternoon? I know one of his sisters quite well, and I
was looking forward to seeing something of him down here."

"I was obliged to dismiss him at a moment's notice," Tallente went on.
"He betrayed his trust and he has disappeared. That very imposing
police inspector who broke up our tête-a-tête yesterday afternoon and I
fear shortened your visit came on his account. He was the spokesman for
a superior authority in London. They have come to the conclusion that I
could, if I chose, throw some light upon his disappearance."

"And could you?"

He rose to his feet.

"You are the one person in the world," he said, "to whom I could tell
nothing but the truth. I could."

They both heard the sound of footsteps in the hall. Lady Jane,
disturbed by the ominous note in Tallente's voice, rose also to her
feet, glancing from him towards the door, filled with some vague,
inexplicable apprehension. Tallente showed no fear, but it was plain
that he had nerved himself to face evil things. There was something
almost ludicrous in this denouement to a situation which to both had
seemed filled with almost dramatic possibilities. The door was opened
by Parkins, the stout, discreet man servant, ushering in the unkempt,
ill-tailored, ungainly figure of James Miller.

"This gentleman," Parkins announced, "wishes to see Mr. Tallente on
urgent business."


The newcomer had distinctly the best of the situation. Tallente, who
had expected a very different visitor, was for the moment bereft of
words. Lady Jane, who, among her minor faults, was inclined to be a
supercilious person, with too great a regard for externals, gazed upon
this strange figure which had found its way into her sanctum with an
astonishment which kept her also silent.

"Sorry to intrude," Mr. Miller began, with an affability which he meant
to be reassuring. "Mr. Tallente, will you introduce me to the lady?"

Tallente acquiesced unwillingly.

"Lady Jane," he said, "this is Mr. James Miller - Lady Jane Partington."

Mr. Miller was impressed, held out his hand and withdrew it.

"I must apologize for this intrusion, Lady Jane, and to you, Tallente,
of course. Mr. Tallente is naturally surprised to see me. He and I
are political opponents," he confided, turning to Jane.

Her surprise increased, if possible.

"Are you Mr. Miller, the Democrat M.P.?" she asked, - "the Mr. Miller
who was making those speeches at Hellesfield last week?"

"At your ladyship's service," he replied, with a low bow. "I am afraid
if you are a friend of Mr. Tallente's you must look upon me as a very
disagreeable person."

"If the newspapers are to be believed, your strategies up at Hellesfield
scarcely give one an exalted idea of your tactics," she replied coldly.
"They all seem to agree that Mr. Tallente was cheated out of his seat."

The intruder smiled tolerantly. He glanced around the room as though
expecting to be asked to seat himself. No invitation of the sort,
however, was accorded him. "All's fair in love and politics, Lady
Jane," he declared. "We Democrats have our programme, and our motto is
that those who are not with us are against us. Mr. Tallente here knew
pretty well what he was up against."

"On the contrary," Tallente interrupted, "one never knows what one is up
against when you are in the opposite camp, Miller. Would you mind
explaining why you have sought me out in this singular fashion?"

"Certainly," was the gracious reply. "You have a very distinguished
visitor over at the Manor, waiting there to see you. I came over with
him and found your car on the point of starting. I took the liberty of
hunting you up so that there should be no delay in your return."

"And who may this distinguished visitor he?" Tallente enquired, with
unconscious sarcasm. "Stephen Dartrey," Miller answered. "He and Miss
Miall and I are staying not far from you."

"Stephen Dartrey?" Lady Jane murmured. "Dartrey?" Tallente echoed. "Do
you mean to say that he is over at the Manor now?"

"Waiting to see you," Miller announced, and for a moment there was a
little gleam of displeasure in his eyes. Lady Jane sighed. "Now, if
only you'd brought him over with you, Mr. Miller," she said, a shade
more amiably, "you would have given me real pleasure. There is no man
whom I am more anxious to meet." Miller smiled tolerantly. "Dartrey is
a very difficult person," he declared. "Although he is the leader of
our party, and before very long will be the leader of the whole Labour
Party, although he could be Prime Minister to-morrow if he cared about
it; he is one of the most retiring men whom I ever knew. At the present
moment I believe that he would have preferred to have remained living
his hermit's life, a writer and a dilettante, if circumstances had not
dragged him into politics. He lives in the simplest way and hates all
society save the company of a few old cronies."

"What does Dartrey want with me?" Tallente interrupted, a little
brusquely. "It is no part of my mission to explain," Miller replied.
"I undertook to come here and beg you to return at once." Tallente
turned to Lady Jane. "You will forgive me?" he begged. "In any case, I
must have been going in a few minutes."

"I should forgive you even if you went without saying good-by," she
replied, "and I can assure you that I shall envy you. I do not want to
turn your head," she went on pleasantly, as she walked by his side
towards the door and across the hall, rather ignoring Miller, who
followed behind, "but for the last two or three years the only political
figures who have interested me at all have been Dartrey and
yourself - you as the man of action, and Dartrey as the most wonderful
exponent of the real, higher Socialism. I had a shelf made for his
three books alone. They hang in my bedroom and I look upon them as my

"I must tell Dartrey this," Miller remarked from behind. "I am sure
he'll be flattered."

"What can he want with you?" Lady Jane asked, dropping her voice a

"I can't tell," Tallente confessed. "His visit puzzles me. He is the
hermit of politics. He seldom makes advances and has few friends. He
is, I believe, a man with the highest sense of honour. Perhaps he has
come to explain to me why they threw me out at Hellesfield."

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Online LibraryE. Phillips OppenheimNobody's Man → online text (page 4 of 19)