E. Phillips Oppenheim.

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"In any case," she said, as they stood for a moment on the step, "I feel
that something exciting is going to happen."

Miller, carrying his tweed cap in his hand, insisted upon a farewell.

"Sorry to have taken your guest away, Lady Jane," he said. "It's an
important occasion, however. Would you like me to bring Dartrey over,
if we are out this way before we go back?"

She shook her head.

"No, I don't think so," she answered quietly. "I might have an illusion
dispelled. Thank you very much, all the same."

Mr. Miller stepped into the car, a little discomfited. Tallente
lingered on the step.

"You will let me know?" she begged.

"I will," he promised. "It is probably just a visit of courtesy.
Dartrey must feel that he has something to explain about Hellesfield."

There was a moment's curious lingering. Each seemed to seek in vain for
a last word. They parted with a silent handshake. Tallente looked
around at the corner of the avenue. She was still standing there,
gazing after the car, slim, cool and stately. Miller waved his cap and
she disappeared.

The car sped over the moorland. Miller, with his cap tucked into his
pocket, leaned forward, taking deep gulps of the wonderful air.

"Marvellous!" he exclaimed. "Tallente, you ought to live for ever in
such a spot!"

"What does Dartrey want to see me about?" his companion asked, a little

Miller coughed, leaned back in his place and became impressive.

"Tallente," he said, "I don't know exactly what Dartrey is going to say
to you. I only know this, that it is very possible he may make you, on
behalf of all of us - the Democratic Party, that is to say - an offer
which you will do well to consider seriously."

"To join your ranks, I suppose?"

"I must not betray a confidence," Miller continued cautiously. "At the
same time, you know our power, you have insight enough to guess at our
destiny. It is an absolute certainty that Dartrey, if he chooses, may
be the next Prime Minister. You might have been in Horlock's Cabinet
but for an accident. It may be that you are destined to be in

Tallente found his thoughts playing strange pranks with him. No man
appreciated the greatness of Dartrey more than he. No man, perhaps, had
a more profound conviction as to the truth and future of the principles
of which he had become the spokesman. He realised the irresistible
power of the new democracy. He was perfectly well aware that it was
within Dartrey's power to rule the country whenever he chose. Yet there
seemed something shadowy about these things, something unpleasantly real
and repulsive in the familiarity of his companion, in the thought of
association with him, He battled with the idea, treated it as a
prejudice, analysed it. From head to foot the man wore the wrong
clothes in the wrong manner, - boots of a vivid shade of brown, thick
socks without garters, an obviously ready-made suit of grey flannel, a
hopeless tie, an unimaginable collar. Even his ready flow of speech
suggested the gifts of the tubthumpers his indomitable persistence, a
lack of sensibility. He knew his facts, knew all the stock arguments,
was brimful of statistics, was argumentative, convincing, in his way
sincere. Tallente acknowledged all these things and yet found himself
wondering, with a grim sense of irony, how he could call a man "Comrade"
with such finger nails!

"It's given you something to think about, eh?" Miller remarked affably.

Tallente came to himself with a little start.

"I'm afraid my mind was wandering," he confessed.

His companion smiled knowingly. He was conscious of Tallente's
aloofness, but determined to break through it if he could. After all,
this caste feeling was absurd. He was, in his way, a well-known man, a
Member of Parliament, a future Cabinet Minister. He was the equal of

"Don't wonder at it! Pleasant neighbours hereabouts, eh?"

Tallente affected to misunderstand. He glanced around at the few
farmhouses dotted in sheltered places amongst the hills.

"There are very few of them," he answered. "That makes this place all
the more enjoyable for any one who comes for a real rest."

Miller felt that he was suffering defeat. He opened his lips and closed
them again. The jocular reference to Lady Jane remained unspoken.
There was something in the calm aloofness of the man by his side which
intimidated even while it annoyed him. Soon they commenced the drop
from the moorland to where, far away below, the Manor with its lawn and
gardens and outbuildings seemed like a child's pleasure palace. Miller
leaned forward and pointed downwards.

"There's Dartrey sitting on the terrace," he pointed out. "Dartrey and
Nora Miall. You've heard of her, I expect?"

"I know her by repute, of course," Tallente admitted. "She is a very
brilliant young woman. It will give me great pleasure to meet her."


Tallente took tea that afternoon with his three guests upon the terrace.
Before them towered the wood-embosomed cliffs, with here and there great
red gashes of scarred sandstone. Beyond lay the sloping meadow, with
its clumps of bracken and grey stone walls, and in the background a more
rugged line of rocky cliffs. The sea in the bay flashed and glittered
in the long rays of the afternoon sunshine. The scene was
extraordinarily peaceful. Stephen Dartrey for the first few minutes
certainly justified his reputation for taciturnity. He leaned back in a
long wicker chair, his head resting upon his hand, his thoughtful eyes
fixed upon vacancy. No man in those days could have resembled less a
popular leader of the people. In appearance he was a typical
aristocrat, and his expression, notwithstanding his fine forehead and
thoughtful eyes, was marked with a certain simplicity which in his
younger days had lured many an inexperienced debater on to ridicule and
extinction. In an intensely curious age, Dartrey was still a man over
whose personality controversy raged fiercely. He was a poet, a dreamer,
a writer of elegant prose, an orator, an artist. And behind all these
things there was a flame in the man, a perfect passion for justice, for
seeing people in their right places, which had led him from the more
flowery ways into the world of politics. His enemies called him a
dilettante and a poseur. His friends were led into rhapsodies through
sheer affection. His supporters hailed him as the one man of genius who
held out the scales of justice before the world.

"Of course," Nora Miall observed, looking up at her host pleasantly, "I
can see what is going to happen. Mr. Dartrey came out here to talk to
you upon most important matters. This place, the beauty of it all, is
acting upon him like a soporific. If we don't shake him up presently,
he will go away with wonderful mind pictures of your cliffs and sea, and
his whole mission unfulfilled."

"Libellous as usual, Nora," Dartrey murmured, without turning his head.
"Mr. Tallente is providing me with a few minutes of intense enjoyment.
He has assured me that his time is ours. Soon I shall finish my tea,
light a cigarette and talk. Just now you may exercise the privilege of
your sex unhindered and better your own acquaintance with our host."

The girl laughed up into Tallente's face.

"Very likely Mr. Tallente doesn't wish to improve his acquaintance with
me," she said.

Tallente hastened to reassure her. Somehow, the presence of these two
did much to soothe the mental irritation which Miller had set up in him.
They at least were of the world of understandable things. Miller,
slouching in his chair, with a cheap tie-clip showing underneath his
waistcoat, a bulging mass of sock descending over the top of his boot,
rolling a cigarette with yellow-stained, objectionable fingers, still
involved him in introspective speculation as to real values in life.

"I have often felt myself unfortunate in not having met you before, Miss
Miall," he said. "Some of your writings have interested me immensely."

"Some of them?" she queried, with a smile.

"Absolute agreement would deny us even the stimulus of an argument," he
observed. "Besides, after all, men find it more difficult to get rid of
prejudices than women."

She leaned forward to help herself to a cigarette and he studied her for
a moment. She was a little under medium height, trimly yet almost
squarely built. Her mouth was delightful, humourous and attractive, and
her eyes were of the deepest shade of violet, with black, silken
eyelashes. Her voice was the voice of a cultivated woman, and Tallente,
as he mostly listened to her light ripple of conversation, realised that
the charm which was hers by reputation was by no means undeserved. In
many ways she astonished him. The stories which had been told of her,
even written, were incredible, yet her manners were entirely the manners
of one of his own world. The trio - Dartrey, with his silence and
occasional monosyllabic remarks - seemed to draw closer together at every
moment until Miller, obviously chafing at his isolation, thrust himself
into the conversation.

"Mr. Tallente," he said, taking advantage of a moment's pause to direct
the conversation into a different channel, "we kept our word at

"You did," his host acknowledged drily. "You succeeded in cheating me
out of the seat. I still don't know why."

He turned as though appealing to Dartrey, and Dartrey accepted the
challenge, swinging a little around in his chair and tapping his
cigarette against the table, preparatory to lighting it.

"You lost Hellesfield, Mr. Tallente, as you would have lost any seat
north of Bedford," he declared.

"Owing to the influence of the Democrats?"


"But why is that influence exercised against me?" Tallente demanded. "I
am thankful to have an opportunity of asking you that question, Dartrey.
Surely you would reckon me more of a people's man than these Whigs and

"Very much more," Dartrey agreed. "So much more, Mr. Tallente, that we
don't wish to see you dancing any longer between two stools. We want
you in our camp. You are the first man, Tallente, whom we have sought
out in this way. We have come at a busy time, under pretext of a
holiday, some two hundred miles from London to suggest to you,
temporarily deprived of political standing, that you join us."

"That temporary deprivation," Tallente murmured, "being due to your


"And the alternative?"

"Those who are not with us are against us," Dartrey declared. "If you
persist in remaining the doubtful factor in politics, it is our business
to see that you have no definite status there."

Tallente laughed a little cynically.

"Your methods are at least modern," he observed. "You invite a man to
join your party, and if he refuses you threaten him with political

"Why not?" Dartrey asked wonderingly. "You do not pause to consider the
matter. Government is meant for the million. Where the individual
might impede good government, common sense calls for his ostracism. No
nation has been more slow to realise this than England. A code of order
and morals established two thousand years ago has been accepted by them
as incapable of modification or improvement. To take a single instance.
Supposing De Valera had been shot the first day he talked treason
against the Empire, your troubles with Ireland would have been immensely
minimised. And mark this, for it is the crux of the whole matter, the
people of Ireland would have attained what they wanted much sooner. You
are not one of those, Andrew Tallente, who refuse to see the writing on
the wall. You know that in one form or another in this country the
democracy must rule. They felt the flame of inspiration when war came
and they helped to win the war. What was their reward? The opulent
portion of them were saddled with an enormous income tax and high prices
of living through bad legislation, which made life a burden. The more
poverty-stricken suffered sympathetically in exactly the same way. We
won the war and we lost the peace. We fastened upon the shoulders of
the deserving, the wage-earning portion of the community, a burden
which their shoulders could never carry a burden which, had we lost the
war instead of winning it, would have led promptly to a revolution and a
measure at least of freedom."

"There is so much of truth in what you say," Tallente declared, "that I
am going to speak to you frankly, even though my frankness seems brutal.
I am going to speak about your friend Miller here. Throughout the war,
Miller was a pacifist. He was dead against killing Germans. He was all
for a peace at any price."

"Steady on," Miller interrupted, suddenly sitting up in his chair.
"Look here, Tallente - "

"Be quiet until I have finished," Tallente went on. "He was concerned
in no end of intrigue with Austrian and German Socialists for
embarrassing the Government and bringing the war to an end. I should
say that but for the fact that our Government at the time was wholly one
of compromise, and was leaning largely upon the Labour vote, he would
have been impeached for high treason."

Miller, who had been busy rolling a cigarette, lit it with ostentatious

"And what of all this?" he demanded.

"Nothing," Tallente replied, "except that it seems a strange thing to
find you now associated with a party who threaten me openly with
political extinction unless I choose to join them. I call this
junkerdom, not socialism."

"No man's principles can remain stable in an unstable world," Miller
pronounced. "I still detest force and compulsion of every sort, but I
recognise its necessity in our present civil life far more than I did in
a war which was, after all, a war of politicians."

Nora Miall leaned over from her chair and laid her hand on Tallente's
arm. After Miller's raucous tones, her voice sounded almost like music.

"Mr. Tallente," she said, "I can understand your feeling aggrieved.
You are not a man whom it is easy to threaten, but remember that after
all we must go on our fixed way towards the appointed goal.
And - consider - isn't the upraised rod for your good? Your place is with
us - indeed it is. I fancy that Stephen here forgets that you are not
yet fully acquainted with our real principles and aims. A political
party cannot be judged from the platform. The views expressed there
have to be largely governed by the character of the audience. It is to
the textbooks of our creed, Dartrey's textbooks, that you should turn."

"I have read your views on certain social matters, Miss Miall," Tallente
observed, turning towards her.

She laughed understandingly. Her eyes twinkled as she looked at him.

"And thoroughly disapproved them, of course! But you know, Mr.
Tallente, we are out not to reconstruct Society but to lay the stepping
stones for a reconstruction. That is all, I suppose, that any single
generation could accomplish. The views which I have advocated in the
_Universal Review_ are the views which will be accepted as a matter of
course in fifty years' time. To-day they seem crude and unmoral,
chiefly because the casual reader, especially the British reader, dwells
so much upon external effects and thinks so little of the soul that lies
below. Even you, Mr. Tallente, with your passion for order and your
distrust of all change in established things, can scarcely consider our
marriage laws an entire success?"

Tallente winced a little and Dartrey hastily intervened.

"We want you to remember this," he said. "The principles which we
advocate are condemned before they are considered by men of inherited
principles and academic education such as yourself, because you have
associated them always with the disciples of anarchy, bolshevism, and
other diseased rituals. You have never stooped to separate the good
from the bad. The person who dares to tamper with the laws of King
Alfred stands before you prejudged. Granted that our doctrines are
extreme, are we - let me be personal and say am I - the class of man whom
you have associated with these doctrines? We Democrats have gained
great power during the last ten years. We have thrust our influence
deep into the hearts of those great, sinister bodies, the trades unions.
There is no one except ourselves who realises our numerical and
potential strength. We could have created a revolution in this country
at any time since the Premier's first gloomy speech in the House of
Commons after the signing of peace, had we chosen. I can assure you
that we haven't the least fancy for marching through the streets with
red flags and letting loose the diseased end of our community upon the
palaces and public buildings of London. We are Democrats or
Republicans, whichever you choose to call us, who desire to conquer with
the brain, as we shall conquer, and where we recognise a man of genius
like yourself, who must be for us or against us, if we cannot convert
him then we must see that politically he ceases to count."

Robert came out and whispered in his master's ear. Tallente turned to
his guests.

"I cannot offer you dinner," he said, "but my servant assures me that he
can provide a cold supper. Will you stay? I think that you, Dartrey,
would enjoy the view from some of my lookouts."

"I accept your invitation," Dartrey replied eagerly. "I have been
sitting here, longing for the chance to watch the sunset from behind
your wood."

"It will be delightful," Nora murmured. "I want to go down to the grass

Miller too accepted, a little ungraciously. The little party wandered
off down the path which led to the seashore. Miller detained his host
for a moment at one of the corners.

"By the by, Tallente," he asked, "what about the disappearance of

"He has disappeared," Tallente answered calmly. "That is all I know
about it."

Miller stood with his hands in his pockets, gnawing the end of his
moustache, gazing covertly at the man who stood waiting for him to pass
on. Tallente's face was immovable.

"Disappeared? Do you mean to say that you don't know where he is?"

"I have no idea."

Again there was a moment's silence. Then Miller leaned a little
forward. "Look here, Tallente," he began - Nora turned round and
suddenly beckoned her host to her.

"Come quickly," she begged. "I can do nothing with Mr. Dartrey. He
has just decided that our whole scheme of life is absurd, that politics
and power are shadows, and that work for others is lunacy. All that he
wants is your cottage, a fishing rod and a few books."

"Nothing else?" Tallente asked, smiling.

There was a momentary cloud upon her face.

"Nothing else in the world," she answered, her eyes fixed upon the
figure of the man who was leaning now over the grey stone wall, gazing

During the service of the meal, on the terrace afterwards, and even when
they strolled down to the edge of the cliff to see the great yellow moon
come up from behind the hills, scarcely a word was spoken on political
subjects. Dartrey was an Oxford man of Tallente's own college, and,
although several years his senior, they discovered many mutual
acquaintances and indulged in reminiscences which seemed to afford
pleasure to both. Then they drifted into literature, and Tallente found
himself amazed at the knowledge of the man whose whole life was supposed
to have been given to his labours for the people. Dartrey explained his
intimate acquaintance with certain modern writings and his marvellous
familiarity with many of the classics, as he and his host walked down
together along one of the narrow paths. "You see, Tallente," he said,
"I have never been a practical politician. I dare say that accounts for
my rather peculiar position to-day. I have evolved a whole series of
social laws by which I maintain that the people should be governed, and
those laws have been accepted wherever socialism flourishes. They took
me some years of my earlier life to elaborate, some years of study
before I set pen to paper, some years of my later life to place before
the world, and there my task practically ended. There is nothing fresh
to say about these great human problems. They are there for any man to
whom daylight comes, to see. They are all inevitably bound up with the
future of our race, but there is no need to dig further. My work is

"How can you say that," Tallente argued, "when day by day your power in
the country grows, when everything points to you as the next Premier?"

"Precisely," Dartrey replied quietly. "That is why I am here. The head
of the Democratic Party has a right to the government of this country,
but you know, at this point I have a very sad confession to make. I am
the worst politician who ever sat in the House. I am a poor debater, a
worse strategist. Again, Tallente, that is why you and I at this moment
walk together through your beautiful grounds and watch the rim of that
yellow moon. It is yourself we want."

Tallente felt the thrill of the moment, felt the sincerity of the man
whose hand pressed gently upon his arm.

"If you are our man, Tallente," his visitor continued, "if you see eye
to eye with us as to the great Things, if you can cast away what remains
to you of class and hereditary prejudice and throw in your lot with
ours, there is no office of the State which you may not hope to occupy.
I had not meant to appeal to your ambitions. I do so now only
generally. As a rule, every man connected with a revolution thinks
himself able to govern the State. That is not so with us. A man may
have the genius for seeing the truth, the genius even for engraving the
laws which should govern the world upon tablets of stone, without having
the capacity for government."

"But do you mean to say," Tallente asked, "that when Horlock goes down,
as go down he must within the next few months, you are not prepared to
take his place?"

"I should never accept the task of forming a government," Dartrey said
quietly, "unless I am absolutely driven to do so. I have shown the
truth to the world. I have shown to the people whom I love their
destiny, but I have not the gifts to lead them. I am asking you,
Tallente, to join us, to enter Parliament as one of our party and to
lead for us in the House of Commons."

"Yours is the offer of a prince," Tallente replied, after a brief,
nervous pause. "If I hesitate, you must remember all that it means for

Dartrey smiled.

"Now, my friend," he said, "look me in the face and answer me this
question. You know little of us Democrats as a party. You see nothing
but a hotchpotch of strange people, struggling and striving to attain
definite form. Naturally you are full of prejudices. Yet consider your
own political position. I am not here to make capital out of a man's
disappointment in his friends, but has your great patron used you well?
Horlock offers you a grudging and belated place in his Cabinet. What
did he say to you when you came hack from Hellesfield?" Tallente was
silent. There was, in fact, no answer which he could make. "I do not
wish to dwell on that," Dartrey went on. "Ingratitude is the natural
sequence of the distorted political ideals which we are out to destroy.
You should be in the frame of mind, Tallente, to see things clearly.
You must realise the rotten condition of the political party to which
Horlock belongs - the Coalitionists, the Whip, or whatever they like to
call themselves. The government of this country since the war has been
a farce and a mockery. We are dropping behind in the world's race.
Labour fattens with sops, develops a spirit of greed and production
languishes. You know why. Labour would toil for its country, Labour
can feel patriotism with the best, but Labour hates to toil under the
earth, upon the earth, and in the factories of the world for the sake of
the profiteer. This is the national spirit, that jealousy, that
slackness, which the last ten years has developed. There is a new
Little Englander abroad and he speaks with the voice of Labour. It is
our task to find the soul of the people. And I have come to you for
your aid."

Tallente looked for a moment down to the bay and listened to the sound
of the incoming tide breaking upon the rocks. Dimmer now, but even more
majestic in the twilight, the great, immovable cliffs towered up to the
sky. An owl floated up from the grove of trees beneath and with a
strange cry circled round for a moment to drop on to the lawn, a
shapeless, solemn mass of feathers. At the back of the hills a little
rim of gold, no wider than a wedding ring, announced the rising of the
moon. He felt a touch upon his sleeve, a very sweet, persuasive voice

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Online LibraryE. Phillips OppenheimNobody's Man → online text (page 5 of 19)