Copyright
E. Phillips Oppenheim.

Nobody's Man online

. (page 6 of 19)
Online LibraryE. Phillips OppenheimNobody's Man → online text (page 6 of 19)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


in his ear. Nora had left Miller in the background and was standing by
his side.

"I heard Mr. Dartrey's last words," she said. "Can you refuse such an
appeal in such a spot? You turn away to think, turn to the quietness of
all these dreaming voices. Believe me, if there is a soul beneath them,
it is the same soul which has inspired our creed. You yourself have
come here full of bitterness, Andrew Tallente, because it seemed to you
that there was no place for you amongst the prophets of democracy. It
was you yourself, in a moment of passion, perhaps, who said that
democracy, as typified in existing political parties, was soulless. You
were right. Hasn't Mr. Dartrey just told you so and doesn't that make
our task the clearer? It brings before us those wonderful days written
about in the Old Testament - the people must be led into the light."

Her voice had become almost part of the music of the evening. She was
looking up at him, her beautiful eyes aglow. Dartrey, a yard or two
off, his thoughtful face paler than ever in the faint light, was
listening with joyous approval. In the background, Miller, with his
hands in his pockets, was smoking mechanically the cigarette which he
had just rolled and lit. The thrill of a great moment brought to
Tallente a feeling of almost strange exaltation.

"I am your man, Dartrey," he promised. "I will do what I can."



CHAPTER X

The Right Honourable John Augustus Horlock, Prime Minister of England
through a most amazing fluke, received Tallente, a few days later, with
the air of one desiring to show as much graciousness as possible to a
discomfited follower. He extended two fingers and indicated an
uncomfortable chair.

"Well, well, Tallente," he said, "sorry I wasn't in town when you passed
through from the north. Bad business, that Hellesfield affair."

"It was a very bad business indeed," Tallente agreed, "chiefly because
it shows that our agents there must be utterly incapable."

The Prime Minister coughed.

"You think so, Tallente, eh? Now their point of view is that you let
Miller make all the running, let him make his points and never got an
answer in - never got a grip on the people, eh?"

"That may do for the official explanation," Tallente replied coldly,
"but as a plain statement of facts it is entirely beside the mark. If
you will forgive my saying so, sir, it has been one of your
characteristics in life, born, without doubt," he added, with a little
bow, "of your indomitable courage, to minimise difficulties and dangers
of a certain type. You did not sympathise with me in my defeat at
Hellesfield because you underrated, as you always have underrated, the
vastly growing strength and dangerous popularity of the party into whose
hands the government of this country will shortly pass."

Mr. Horlock frowned portentously. This was not at all the way in which
he should have been addressed by an unsuccessful follower. But
underneath that frown was anxiety.

"You refer to the Democrats?"

"Naturally."

"Do I understand you to attribute your defeat, then, to the tactics of
the Democratic Party?"

"It is no question of supposition," Tallente replied. "It is a
certainty."

"You believe that they have a greater hold upon the country than we
imagine, then?"

"I am sure of it," was the confident answer. "They occupy a position no
other political party has aimed at occupying in the history of this
country. They aid and support themselves by means of direct and logical
propaganda, carried to the very heart and understanding of their
possible supporters. Their methods are absolutely unique and personally
I am convinced that it is their destiny to bring into one composite body
what has been erroneously termed the Labour vote."

Horlock smiled indulgently. He preferred to assume a confidence which
he could not wholly feel.

"I am glad to hear your opinion, Tallente," he said. "I have to
remember, however, that you are still smarting under a defeat inflicted
by these people. What I cannot altogether understand is this: How was
it that you were entirely deprived of their support at Hellesfield. You
yourself are supposed to be practically a Socialist, at any rate from
the point of view of the staider of my party. Yet these fellows down at
Hellesfield preferred to support Bloxham, who twenty years ago would
have been called a Tory."

"I can quite understand your being puzzled at that," Tallente
acknowledged. "I was myself at first. Since then I have received an
explanation."

"Well, well," Mr. Horlock interjected, with a return of his official
genial manner, "we'll let sleeping dogs lie. Have you made any plans,
Tallente?"

"A week ago I thought of going to Samoa," was the grim reply. "You
don't want me, the country didn't seem to want me. I have worked for
other people for thirty years. I rather thought of resting, living the
life of a lotus eater for a time."

"An extremist as ever," the Prime Minister remarked tolerantly. "Even a
politician who has worked as hard as you have can find many pleasurable
paths in life open to him in this country. However, the necessity for
such an extreme course of action on your part is done away with. I am
very pleased to be able to tell you that the affair concerning which I
have been in communication with your secretary for the last two months
has taken an unexpectedly favourable turn."

"What the mischief do you mean?" Tallente enquired, puzzled.

"I mean," Mr. Horlock announced, with a friendly smile, "that sooner
than be deprived of your valuable services, His Majesty has consented
that you should go to the Upper House. You will be offered a peerage
within the next fortnight."

Tallente stared at the speaker as though he had suddenly been bereft of
his senses.

"What on earth are you talking about, sir?" he demanded.

Mr. Horlock somewhat resented his visitor's tone.

"Surely my statement was sufficiently explicit?" he said, a little
stiffly. "The peerage concerning which at first, I admit, I saw
difficulties, is yours. You can, without doubt, be of great service to
us in the Upper House and - "

"But I'd sooner turn shopkeeper!" Tallente interrupted. "If I
understand that it is your intention to offer me a peerage, let us have
no misunderstanding about the matter. It is refused, absolutely and
finally."

The Prime Minister stared at his visitor for a moment in amazement.
Then he unlocked a drawer in his desk, drew out several letters and
threw them over to Tallente.

"And will you tell me what the devil you mean by authorising your
secretary to write these letters?" he demanded.

Tallente picked them up, read them through and gasped.

"Written by Palliser, aren't they?" Mr. Horlock demanded.

"Without a doubt," Tallente acknowledged. "The amazing thing, however,
is that they are entirely unauthorised. The subject has never even been
discussed between Palliser and myself. I am exceedingly sorry, sir," he
went on, "that you should have been misled in this fashion, but I can
only give you my word of honour that these letters are entirely and
absolutely unauthorised."

"God bless my soul!" the Prime Minister exclaimed. "Where is Palliser?
Better telephone."

"Palliser left my service a week or more ago," Tallente replied. "He
left it at a moment's notice, in consequence of a personal disagreement
concerning which I beg that you will ask no questions I can only assure
you that it was not political. Since he left no word has been heard of
him. The papers, even, have been making capital of his disappearance."

"It is the most extraordinary thing I ever heard in my life," Horlock
declared, a little irritably. "Why, I've spent hours of my time trying
to get this matter through."

"Dealing seriously with Palliser, thinking that he represented me in
this matter?"

"Without a doubt."

"Will you lend me the letters?" Tallente asked.

Mr. Horlock threw them across the table.

"Here they are. My secretary wrote twice to Palliser last week and
received no reply. That is why I sent you a telegram."

"I was on my way to see you, anyway," Tallente observed. "I thought
that you were going to offer me a seat."

Mr. Horlock shook his head.

"We simply haven't a safe one," he confided, "and there isn't a soul I
could ask to give up, especially, to speak plainly, for you, Tallente.
They look upon you as dangerous, and although it would have been a nine
days' wonder, most of my people would have been relieved to have heard
of your going to the Upper House."

"I see," Tallente murmured. "In plain words, you've no use for me in
the Cabinet?"

"My dear fellow," the Prime Minister expostulated, "you have no right to
talk like that. I offered you a post of great responsibility and a seat
which we believed to be perfectly safe. You lost the election, bringing
a considerable amount of discredit, if you will forgive my saying so,
upon the Government. What more can I do?"

Tallente was watching the speaker curiously. He had thought over this
interview all the way up on the train, thought it out on very different
lines.

"Nothing, I suppose," he admitted, "yet there's a certain risk about
dropping me, isn't there? You might drive me into the arms of the
enemy."

"What, the old Whig lot? Not a chance! I know you too well for that."

"No, the Democrats."

Horlock moved restlessly in his chair. He was eyeing his visitor
steadfastly.

"What, the people who have just voted solidly against you?"

"Hasn't it occurred to you that that might have been political
strategy?" Tallente suggested. "They might have maneuvered for the very
situation which has arisen - that is, if I am really worth anything to
anybody."

Horlock shook his head.

"Oil and water won't mix, Tallente, and you don't belong to that crowd.
All the same," he confessed, "I shouldn't like you with them. I cannot
believe that such a thing would ever come to pass, but the thought isn't
a pleasant one."

"Now that you have made up your mind that I don't want to go to the
House of Lords and wouldn't under any possible consideration," Tallente
asked, "have you anything else to suggest?"

Mr. Horlock was a little annoyed. He considered that he had shown
remarkable patience with a somewhat troublesome visitor.

"Tallente," he said, "it is of no use your being unreasonable. You had
your chance at Hellesfield and you lost it; your chance in my Cabinet
and lost that too. You know for yourself how many rising politicians I
have to satisfy. You'll be back again with us before long, of course,
but for the present you must be content to take a rest. We can make use
of you on the platform and there are always the reviews."

"I see," Tallente murmured.

"The fact is," his host concluded, as his fingers strayed towards the
dismissal bell, "you made rather a mistake, Tallente, years ago, in
dabbling at all with the Labour Party. At first, I must admit that I
was glad. I felt that you created, as it were, a link between my
Government and a very troublesome Opposition. To-day things have
altered. Labour has shown its hand and it demands what no sane man
could give. We've finished with compromise. We have to fight Socialism
or go under."

Tallente nodded.

"One moment," he begged, as the Prime Minister's forefinger rested upon
the button of the bell. "Now may I tell you just why I came to pay you
this visit?"

"If there is anything more left to be said," Mr. Horlock conceded, with
an air of exaggerated patience.

"There is just this," Tallente declared. "If you had had a seat to
offer me or a post in your Cabinet, I should have been compelled to
decline it, just as I have declined that ridiculous offer of a peerage.
I have consented to lead the Democratic Party in the House of Commons."

The Prime Minister's fingers slipped slowly from the knob of the bell.
He was a person of studied deportment. A journalist who had once
written of his courtly manners had found himself before long the
sub-editor of a Government journal. At that moment he was possessed of
neither manners nor presence. He sat gazing at Tallente with his mouth
open. The latter rose to his feet.

"I ask you to believe, sir," he said, "that the step which I am taking
is in no way due to my feeling of pique or dissatisfaction with your
treatment. I go where I think I can do the best work for my country and
employ such gifts as I have to their best advantage."

"But you are out to ruin the country!" Horlock faltered. "The Democrats
are Socialists."

"From one point of view," Tallente rejoined, "every Christian is a
Socialist. The term means nothing. The programme of my new party aims
at the destruction of all artificial barriers which make prosperity easy
to one and difficult to another. It aims not only at the abolition of
great fortunes and trusts, but at the abolition of the conditions which
make them possible. It embraces a scheme for national service and a
reasonable imperialism. It has a sane programme, and that is more than
any Government which has been in office since the war has had."

Mr. Horlock rose to his feet.

"Tallente," he pronounced, "you are a traitor to your class and to your
country."

He struck the bell viciously. His visitor turned away with a faint
smile.

"Don't annoy me," he begged, "or I may some day have to send you to the
House of Lords!"



CHAPTER XI

Tallente, obeying an urgent telephone message, made his way to
Claridge's and sent his card up to his wife. Her maid came down and
invited him to her suite, an invitation which he promptly declined. In
about a quarter of an hour she descended to the lounge, dressed for the
street. She showed no signs of confusion or nervousness at his visit.
She was hard and cold and fair, with a fraudulent smile upon her lips,
dressed to perfection, her maid hovering in the background with a
Pekinese under one arm and a jewel case in her other hand.

"Thank goodness," she said, as she fluttered into a chair by his side,
"that you hate scenes even more than I do! You have the air of a man
who has found out no end of disagreeable things!"

"You are observant," he answered drily. "I have just come from the
Prime Minister."

"Well?"

"I find that Palliser has been conducting a regular conspiracy behind my
back, with reference to this wretched peerage. He has practically
forged my name and has placed me in a most humiliating position. You, I
suppose, were his instigator in this matter?"

"I suppose I was," she admitted.

"What was to be his reward - his ulterior reward, I mean?"

"I promised him twenty thousand pounds," she answered, with cold fury.
"It appears that I overvalued your importance to your party. Tony
apparently did the same. He thought that you had only to intimate your
readiness to accept a peerage and the thing would be arranged. It seems
that we were wrong."

"You were doubly wrong," he replied. "In the first place, there were
difficulties, and in the second, nothing would have induced me to accept
such a humiliating offer."

"How did you find this out?" she enquired.

"The Prime Minister offered me the peerage less than an hour ago," he
answered. "I need not say that I unhesitatingly refused it."

Stella ceased buttoning her gloves. There was a cold glitter in her
eyes.

"You refused it?"

"Of course!"

She was silent for a moment.

"Andrew," she said, "you have scarcely kept your bargain with me."

"I am not prepared to admit that," he replied. "You had a very
considerable social position at the time when I was in office. It was
up to you to make that good."

"I am tired of political society," she answered. "It isn't the real
thing. Now you are out of Parliament, though, even that has vanished.
Andrew!"

"Well?"

She leaned a little towards him. She began to regret that he had not
accepted her invitation to visit her in her suite. Years ago she had
been able to bend him sometimes to her will. Why should she take it for
granted that she had lost her power? Here, however, even persuasions
were difficult. He sat upon a straight, high-backed chair by her side
and his face seemed as though it were carved out of stone.

"You have always declined, Andrew, to make very much use of my money,"
she said. "Could we not make a bargain now? I will give you a hundred
thousand pounds and settle five million dollars on the holder of the
title forever, if you will accept this peerage. I wouldn't mind a
present to the party funds, either, if that helped matters."

Tallente shook his head.

"I am sorry for your disappointment," he said, "but nothing would induce
me to accept a seat in the Upper House. I have other plans."

"They could be changed."

"Impossible!"

"You might be forced to change them."

"By whom?"

The smile maddened her. She had meant to be subtle. She became
flamboyant. She leaned forward in her chair.

"What have you done with Tony Palliser?" she demanded.

Tallente remained absolutely unruffled. He had been expecting something
of this sort. The only wonder was that it had been delayed so long.

"A threat?" he asked pleasantly.

"Call it what you like. Men don't disappear like that. What did you do
with him?"

"What do you think he deserved?"

She bit her lip.

"I think you are the most detestable human being who ever breathed," she
faltered. "Supposing I go to the police?"

"Don't be melodramatic," he begged. "In the first place, what have you
to tell? In the second place, in this country, at any rate, a wife
cannot give evidence against her husband."

"You admit that something has happened?" she asked eagerly.

"I admit nothing," he replied, "except that Anthony Palliser has
disappeared under circumstances which you and I know about, that he has
forged my name and entered into a disgraceful conspiracy with you, and
that he has stolen from my wife a political document of great importance
to me."

"I knew nothing about the political document," she said quickly.

"Possibly not," he agreed. "Still, the fact remains that Tony was a
thoroughly bad lot. I find myself able to regard the possibility of an
accident having happened to him with equanimity. Have you anything
further to say?"

She sat looking down on the floor for several minutes. She had
probably, Tallente decided as he watched her, some way of suffering in
secret, all the more terrible because of its repression. When she
looked up, her face seemed pinched and older. Her voice, however, was
steady.

"Let us have an understanding," she said. "You do not desire my return
to Martinhoe?"

"I do not," he agreed.

"And what about Cheverton House here?"

"I have nothing to do with it," he replied. "You persuaded me to allow
you to take it and I have lived with you there. I never pretended,
however, to be able to contribute to its upkeep. You can live there, if
you choose, or wherever else you please."

"Alone?"

"It would be more reputable."

"You mean that you will not return there?"

"I do mean that."

His cold firmness daunted her. She was, besides, at a disadvantage; she
had no idea how much he knew.

"I can make you come back to me if I choose," she threatened.

"The attempt would cost you a great deal of money," he told her, "and
the result would be the same. Frankly, Stella," he went on, striving to
impart a note of friendliness into his tone, "we made a bad bargain and
it is no use clinging to the impossible. I have tried to keep my end of
it. Technically I have kept it. If I have failed in other ways, I am
very sorry. The whole thing was a mistake. We have been frank about
it more than once, so we may just as well be frank about it now. I
married for money and you for position. I have not found your money any
particular advantage, and I have realised that as a man gets on in life
there are other and more vital things which he misses though making such
a bargain. You are not satisfied with your position, and perhaps you,
too, have something of the same feeling that I have. You are your own
mistress and you are a very rich woman, and in whichever direction you
may decide to seek for a larger measure of content, you will not find
me in the Way."


"I am not sentimental," she said coldly. "I know what I want and I am
not afraid to own it. I want to be a Peeress."

"In that respect I am unable to help you," he replied. "And in case I
have not made myself sufficiently clear upon the subject, let me tell
you that I deeply resent the plot by which you endeavoured to foist such
an indignity upon me."

"This is your last word?" she demanded.

"Absolutely!"

"Then I demand that you set me free."

He was a little staggered.

"How on earth can I do that?"

"You can allow me to divorce you."

"And spoil any chance I might have of reentering political life," he
remarked quietly.

"I have no further interest in your political life," she retorted.

He looked at her steadfastly.

"There is another way," he suggested. "I might divorce you."

Her eyes fell before the steely light in his. She did her best,
however, to keep her voice steady.

"That would not suit me," she admitted. "I could not be received at
Court, and there are other social penalties which I am not inclined to
face. In the case of a disagreement like ours, if the man realises his
duty, it is he who is willing to bear the sacrifice."

"Under some circumstances, yes," he agreed. "In our case, however,
there is a certain consideration upon which I have forborne to touch - "

It was as much her anger as anything else which induced her lack of
self-control. She gave a little cry.

"Andrew, you are detestable!" she exclaimed. "Let us end this
conversation. You have said all that you wish to say?"

"Everything."

"Please go away, then," she begged. "I am expecting visitors. I think
that we understand each other."

He rose to his feet.

"I am sorry for our failure, Stella," he said. "Pray do not hesitate to
write to me at any time if my advice or assistance can be of service."

He passed down the lounge, more crowded now than when he had entered. A
very fashionably dressed young woman, one of a smart tea party, leaned
back in her chair as he passed and held out her hand.

"And how does town seem, Mr. Tallente, after your sylvan solitude?" she
asked.

Tallente for a moment was almost at a loss. Then a glance into her
really very wonderful eyes, and the curve of her lips as she smiled
convinced him of the truth which he had at first discarded.

"Miss Miall!" he exclaimed.

"Please don't look so surprised," she laughed. "I suppose you think I
have no right to be frivolling in these very serious times, but I am
afraid I am rather an offender when the humour takes me. You kept your
word to Mr. Dartrey, I see?"

Tallente nodded.

"I came to town yesterday."

"I must hear all the news, please," she insisted. "Will you come and
see me to-morrow afternoon? I share a flat with another girl in
Westminster - Number 13, Brown Square."

"I shall be delighted," he answered. "I think your hostess wants to
speak to me. She is an old friend of my aunt."

He moved on a few steps and bowed over the thin, over-bejewelled fingers
of the Countess of Clanarton, an old lady whose vogue still remained
unchallenged, although the publication of her memoirs had very nearly
sent a highly respected publisher into prison.

"Andrew," she exclaimed, "we are all so distressed about you! How dared
you lose your election! You know my little fire-eating friend, I see.
I keep in with her because when the revolution comes she is going to
save me from the guillotine, aren't you, Nora?"

"My revolution won't have anything to do with guillotines," the girl
laughed back, "and if you really want to have a powerful friend at
court, pin your faith on Mr. Tallente."

Lady Clanarton shook her head.

"I have known Andrew, my dear, since he was in his cradle," she said.
"I have heard him spout Socialism, and I know he has written about
revolutions, but, believe me, he's a good old-fashioned Whig at heart.
He'll never carry the red flag. I see your wife has bought the
Maharajaim of Sapong's pearls, Andrew. Do you think she'd leave them to
me if I were to call on her?"

"Why not ask her?" Tallente suggested. "She is over there."

"Dear me, so she is!" she exclaimed. "How smart, too! I thought when
she came in she must be some one not quite respectable, she was so
well-dressed. Going, Andrew? Well, come and see me before you return
to the country. And I wouldn't go and have tea with that little hussy,
if I were you. She'll burn the good old-fashioned principles out of
you, if anything could."


1 2 3 4 6 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19

Online LibraryE. Phillips OppenheimNobody's Man → online text (page 6 of 19)