E. Phillips Oppenheim.

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he found an impossibility.

"So you see," she concluded, sitting up and speaking once more in her
conversational manner, "I am not a bit modern really, am I? I am just as
primitive as I can be, longing for the things all women long for and
unashamed to confess my longing to any one who has the gift of
understanding, any one who walks with his eyes turned towards the

Their taxicab stopped outside the building in which her little flat was
situated. She handed him the door key. "Please turn this for me," she
begged. "I am at home every afternoon between five and seven. Come and
see me whenever you can." He opened the door and she passed in, looking
back at him with a little wave of the hand before she vanished lightly
into the shadows. Tallente dismissed the cab and walked back towards
his rooms. His light-heartedness was passing away with every step he
took. The cheerful little groups of pleasure-seekers he encountered
seemed like an affront to his increasing melancholy. Once more he had
to reckon with this strange new feeling of loneliness which had made its
disturbing entrance into his thoughts within the last few years. It was
as though a certain weariness of life and its prospects had come with
the temporary cessation of his day-by-day political work, and as though
an unsuspected desire, terrified at the passing years, was tugging at
his heartstrings in the desperate call for some tardy realisation.


Tallente met the Prime Minister walking in the Park early on the
following morning. The latter had established the custom of walking
from Knightsbridge Barracks, where his car deposited him, to Marble Arch
and back every morning, and it had come to be recognised as his desire,
and a part of the etiquette of the place, that he should be allowed this
exercise without receiving even the recognition of passersby. On this
occasion, however, he took the initiative, stopped Tallente and invited
him to talk with him.

"I thought of writing to you, Tallente," he said. "I cannot bring
myself to believe that you were in earnest on Wednesday morning."

"Absolutely," the other assured him. "I have an appointment with
Dartrey in an hour's time to close the matter."

The Prime Minister was shocked and pained.

"You will dig your own grave," he declared. "The idea is perfectly
scandalous. You propose to sell your political birthright for a mess of

"I am afraid I can't agree with you, sir," Tallente regretted. "I am at
least as much in sympathy with the programme of the Democratic Party as
I am with yours."

"In that case," was the somewhat stiff rejoinder, "there is, I fear,
nothing more to be said."

There was a brief silence. Tallente would have been glad to make his
escape, but found no excuse.

"When we beat Germany," Horlock ruminated, "the man in the street
thought that we had ensured the peace of the world. Who could have
dreamed that a nation who had played such an heroic part, which had
imperiled its very existence for the sake of a principle, was all the
time rotten at the core!"

"I will challenge you to repeat that statement in the House or on any
public platform, sir," Tallente objected. "The present state of
discontent throughout the country is solely owing to the shocking
financial mismanagement of every Chancellor of the Exchequer and
lawmaker since peace was signed. We won the war and the people who had
been asked to make heroic sacrifices were simply expected to continue
them afterwards as a matter of course. What chance has the man of
moderate means had to improve his position, to save a little for his old
age, during the last ten years? A third of his income has gone in
taxation and the cost of everything is fifty per cent, more than it was
before the war. And we won it, mind. That is what he can't understand.
We won the war and found ruin."

"Legislation has done its best," the Prime Minister said, "to assist in
the distribution of capital."

"Legislation was too slow," Tallente answered bluntly. "Legislation is
only playing with the subject now. You sneer at the Democratic Party,
but they have a perfectly sound scheme of financial reform and they
undertake to bring the income tax down to two shillings in the pound
within the next three years."

"They'll ruin half the merchants and the manufacturers in the country if
they attempt it."

"How can they ruin them?" Tallente replied. "The factories will be
there, the trade will be there, the money will still be there. The
financial legislation of the last few years has simply been a blatant
nursing of the profiteer."

"I need not say, Tallente, that I disagree with you entirely," his
companion declared. "At the same time, I am not going to argue with
you. To tell you the truth, I spent a great part of last night with you
in my thoughts. We cannot afford to let you go. Supposing, now, that I
could induce Watkinson to give up Kendal? His seat is quite safe and
with a little reshuffling you would be able to slip back gradually to
your place amongst us?"

Tallente shook his head.

"I am very sorry, sir," he said, "but my decision is taken. I have come
to the conclusion that, with proper handling and amalgamation, the
Democrats are capable of becoming the only sound political party at
present possible. If Stephen Dartrey is still of the same mind when I
see him this morning, I shall throw in my lot with theirs."

The Prime Minister frowned. He recognised bitterly an error in tactics.
The ranks of his own party were filled with brilliant men without
executive gifts. It was for that reason he had for the moment ignored
Tallente. He realised, however, that in the opposite camp no man could
be more dangerous.

"This thing seems to me really terrible, Tallente," he protested
gravely. "After all, however much we may ignore it, there is what we
might call a clannishness amongst Englishmen of a certain order which
has helped this country through many troubles. You are going to leave
behind entirely the companionship of your class. You are going to cast
in your lot with the riffraff of politics, the mealy-mouthed anarchist
only biding his time, the blatant Bolshevist talking of compromise with
his tongue in his cheek, the tub-thumper out to confiscate every one's
wealth and start a public house. You won't know yourself in this

Tallente shook his head.

"These people," he admitted, "are full of their extravagances, although
I think that the types you mention are as extinct as the dodo, but I
will admit their extravagances, only to pass on to tell you this. I
claim for them that they are the only political party, even with their
strange conglomeration of material, which possesses the least spark of
spirituality. I think, and their programme proves it, that they are
trying to look beyond the crying needs of the moment, trying to frame
laws which will be lasting and just without pandering to capital or
factions of any sort. I think that when their time comes, they will try
at least to govern this country from the loftiest possible standard."

The Prime Minister completed his walk, the enjoyment of which Tallente
had entirely spoilt. He held out his hand a little pettishly.

"Politics," he said, "is the one career in which men seldom recover from
their mistakes. I hope that even at the eleventh hour you will relent.
It will be a grief to all of us to see you slip away from the reputable

The Right Honourable John Augustus Horlock stepped into his motor-car
and drove away. Tallente, after a glance at his watch, called a taxi
and proceeded to keep his appointment at Demos House, the great block of
buildings where Dartrey had established his headquarters. In the large,
open waiting room where he was invited to take a seat he watched with
interest the faces of the passers-by. There seemed to be visitors from
every class of the community. A Board of Trade official was there to
present some figures connected with the industry which he represented.
Half a dozen operatives, personally conducted by a local leader, had
travelled up that morning from one of the great manufacturing centres.
A well-known writer was there, waiting to see the chief of the literary
section. Tallente found his period of detention all too short. He was
summoned in to see Dartrey, who welcomed him warmly.

"Sit down, Tallente," he invited. "We are both of us men who believe in
simple things and direct action. Have you made up your mind?"

"I have," Tallente announced. "I have broken finally with Horlock. I
have told him that I am coming to you."

Dartrey leaned over and held out both his hands. The spiritual side of
his face seemed at that moment altogether in the ascendant. He welcomed
Tallente as the head of a great religious order might have welcomed a
novice. He was full of dignity and kindliness as well as joy.

"You will help us to set the world to rights," he said. "Alas! that is
only a phrase, but you will help us to let in the light. Remember," he
went on, "that there may be moments of discouragement. Much of the
material we have to use, the people we have to influence, the way we
have to travel, may seem sordid, but the light is shining there all the
time, Tallente. We are not politicians. We are deliverers."

It was one of Dartrey's rare moments of genuine enthusiasm. His visitor
forgot for a moment the businesslike office with its row of telephones,
its shelves of blue books and masses of papers. He seemed to be
breathing a new and wonderful atmosphere.

"I am your man, Dartrey," he promised simply. "Make what use of me you

Dartrey smiled, once more the plain, kindly man of affairs.

"To descend, then, very much to the earth," he said, "to-night you must
go to Bradford. Odames will resign to-morrow. This time," he added,
with a little smile, "I think I can promise you the Democratic support
and a very certain election."



Tallente found himself possessed of a haunting, almost a morbid feeling
that a lifetime had passed since last his car had turned out of the
station gates and he had seen the moorland unroll itself before his
eyes. There was a new pungency in the autumn air, an unaccustomed
scantiness in the herbiage of the moor and the low hedges growing from
the top of the stone walls. The glory of the heather had passed,
though here and there a clump of brilliant yellow gorse remained. The
telegraph posts, leaning away from the wind, seemed somehow scantier;
the road stretched between them, lonely and desolate. From a farmhouse
in the bosom of the tree-hung hills lights were already twinkling, and
when he reached the edge of the moor, and the sea spread itself out
almost at his feet, the shapes of the passing steamers, with their long
trail of smoke, were blurred and uncertain. Below, his home field, his
wall-enclosed patch of kitchen garden, the long, low house itself lay
like pieces from a child's play-box stretched out upon the carpet. Only
to-night there was no mist. They made their cautious way downwards
through the clearest of darkening atmospheres. On the hillsides, as
they dropped down, they could hear the music of an occasional sheep
bell. Rabbits scurried away from the headlights of the car, an early
owl flew hooting over their heads. Tallente, tired with his journey,
perhaps a little worn with the excitement of the last two months, found
something dark and a little lonely about the unoccupied house, something
a little dreary in his solitary dinner and the long evening spent with
no company save his books and his pipe. Later on, he lay for long
awake, watching the twin lights flash out across the Channel and
listening to the melancholy call of the owls as they swept back and
forth across the lawn to their secret abodes in the cliffs. When at
last he slept, however, he slept soundly. An unlooked-for gleam of
sunshine and the dull roar of the incoming tide breaking upon the beach
below woke him the next morning long after his usual hour. He bathed,
shaved in front of the open window, and breakfasted with an absolute
renewal of his fuller interest in life. It was not until he had sent
back the car in which he had driven as far as the station, and was
swinging on foot across Woolhanger Moor, that he realised fully why he
had come, why he had schemed for these two days out of a life packed
with multifarious tasks. Then he laughed at himself, heartily yet a
little self-consciously. A fool's errand might yet be a pleasant one,
even though his immediate surroundings seemed to mock the sound of his
mirth. Woolhanger Moor in November was a drear enough sight. There
were many patches of black mud and stagnant water, carpets of
treacherous-looking green moss, bare clumps of bushes bent all one way
by the northwest wind, masses of rock, gaunter and sterner now that
their summer covering of creeping shrubs and bracken had lost their
foliage. It was indeed the month of desolation. Every scrap of colour
seemed to have faded from the dripping wet landscape. Phantasmal clouds
of grey mist brooded here and there in the hollows. The distant hills
were wreathed in vapour, so that even the green of the pastures was
invisible. Every now and then a snipe started up from one of the weedy
places with his shrill, mournful cry, and more than once a solitary hawk
hovered for a few minutes above his head. The only other sign of life
was a black speck in the distance, a speck which came nearer and nearer
until he paused to watch it, standing upon a little incline and looking
steadily along the rude cart track. The speck grew in size. A person
on horseback, - a woman! Soon she swung her horse around as though she
recognised him, jumped a little dike to reach him the quicker and reined
up her horse by his side, holding one hand down to him. "Mr.
Tallente!" she exclaimed. "How wonderful!" He held her hand, looking
steadfastly, almost eagerly, up into her flushed face. Her eyes were
filled with pleasure. His errand, in those few breathless moments,
seemed no longer the errand of a fool.

"I can't realise it, even now," she went on, drawing her hand away at
last. "I pictured you at Westminster, in committee rooms and all sorts
of places. Aren't you forging weapons to drive us from our homes and
portion out our savings?"

"I have left the thunderbolts alone for one short week-end," he
answered. "I felt a hunger for this moorland air. London becomes so
enveloping." Jane sat upright upon her horse and looked at him with a
mocking smile. "How ungallant! I hoped you had come to atone for your

"Have I neglected you?" he asked quietly, turning and walking by her

"Shockingly! You lunched with me on the seventh of August. I see you
again on the second of November, and I do believe that I shall have to
save you from starvation again."

"It's quite true," he admitted. "I have a sandwich in my pocket,
though, in case you were away from home."

"Worse than ever," she sighed. "You didn't even trouble to make

"From whom should I? Robert - my servant - his wife, and a boy to help in
the garden are all my present staff at the Manor. Robert drives the car
and waits on me, and his wife cooks. They are estimable people, but I
don't think they are up in local news."

"You were quite safe," she said, looking ahead of her. "I am never
away." The tail end of a scat of rain beat on their faces. From the
hollow on their left, the wind came booming up.

"I should have thought that for these few months just now," he
suggested, "you might have cared for a change."

"I have my work here, such as it is," she answered, a little listlessly.
"If I were in town, for instance, I should have nothing to do."

"You would meet people. You must sometimes feel the need of society
down here."

"I doubt whether I should meet the people who would interest me," she
replied, "and in any case I have my work here. That keeps me occupied."

They turned into the avenue and soon the long front of the house spread
itself out before them. Jane, who had been momentarily absorbed, looked
down at her companion.

"You are alone at the Manor?" she asked.

"Quite alone."

She became the hostess directly they had passed the portals of the
house. She led him across the hall into her little sanctum.

"This is the room," she told him, "in which I never do a stroke of
work - sacred to the frivolities alone. I shall send Morton in to see
what you will have to drink, while I change my habit. You must have
something after that walk. I shan't be long."

For the second time she avoided meeting his eves as she left the room.
Tallente stood on the hearth-rug, still looking at the closed door
through which she had vanished, puzzled, a little chilled. He gave his
order to the attentive butler who presently appeared and who looked at
him with covert interest, - the Press had been almost hysterically
prodigal of his name during the last few weeks. Then he settled down to
wait for her return with an impatience which became almost
uncontrollable. It seemed to him, as he paced restlessly about, that
this little apartment, which he remembered so well, had in a measure
changed, was revealing a different atmosphere, as though in sympathy
with some corresponding change in its presiding spirit. There was a
huge and well-worn couch, smothered with cushions and suggestive of a
comfort almost voluptuous; a large easy-chair, into which he presently
sank, of the same character. The wood logs burning in the grate gave
out a pleasant sense of warmth. He took more particular note of the
volumes in the well-filled bookcases, - volumes of poetry, French novels,
with a fair sprinkling of modern English fiction. There was a plaster
cast of the Paris Magdalene over the door and one or two fine point
etchings, after the style of Heillieu, upon the walls. There was no
writing table in the room, nor any signs of industry, but a black oak
gate-table was laden with magazines and fashion papers. Against the
brown walls, a clump of flaming yellow gorse leaned from a distant
corner, its faint almond-like fragrance mingling aromatically with the
perfume of burning logs and a great bowl of dried lavender. More than
ever it seemed to Tallente that the atmosphere of the room had changed,
had become in some subtle way at the same time more enervating and more
exciting. It was like a revelation of a hidden side of the woman, who
might indeed have had some purpose of her own in leaving him here. He
set down his empty glass with the feeling that vermouth was a heavier
drink than he had fancied. Then a streak of watery sunshine filtered
its way through the plantation and crept across the worn, handsome
carpet. He felt a queer exultation at the sound of her footsteps
outside. She entered, as she had departed, without directly meeting his
earnest gaze.

"I hope you have made yourself at home," she said. "Dear me, how untidy
everything is!"

She moved about, altering the furniture a little, making little piles of
the magazines, a graceful, elegant figure in her dark velvet house
dress, with a thin band of fur at the neck. She turned suddenly around
and found him watching her. This time she laughed at him frankly.

"Sit down at once," she ordered, motioning him back to his easy-chair
and coming herself to a corner of the lounge. "Remember that you have a
great deal to tell me and explain. The newspapers say such queer
things. Is it true that I really am entertaining a possible future
Prime Minister?"

"I suppose that might be," he answered, a little vaguely, his eyes still
fixed upon her. "So this is your room. I like it. And I like - "

"Well, go on, please," she begged.

"I like the softness of your gown, and I like the fur against your
throat and neck, and I like those buckles on your shoes, and the way you
do your hair."

She laughed, gracefully enough, yet with some return to that note of

"You mustn't turn my head!" she protested. "You, fresh from London,
which they tell me is terribly gay just now! I want to understand just
what it means, your throwing in your lot with the Democrats. My uncle
says, for instance, that you have abandoned respectable politics to
become a Tower Hill pedagogue."

"Respectable politics," he replied, "if by that you mean the present
government of the country, have been in the wrong hands for so long that
people scarcely realise what is undoubtedly the fact - that the country
isn't being governed at all. A Government with an Opposition Party
almost as powerful as itself, all made up of separate parties which are
continually demanding sops, can scarcely progress very far, can it?"

"But the Democrats," she ventured, "are surely only one of these
isolated parties?"

"I have formed a different idea of their strength," he answered. "I
believe that if a general election took place to-morrow, the Democrats
would sweep the country. I believe that we should have the largest
working majority any Government has had since the war."

"How terrible!" she murmured, involuntarily truthful.

"Your tame socialism isn't equal to the prospect," he remarked, a little

"My tame socialism, as you call it," she replied, "draws the line at
seeing the country governed by one class of person only, and that class
the one who has the least at stake in it."

"Lady Jane," he said earnestly, "I am glad that I am here to point out
to you a colossal mistake from which you and many others are suffering.
The Democrats do not represent Labour only."

"The small shopkeepers?" she suggested.

"Nothing of the sort," he replied. "The influence of my party has
spread far deeper and further. We number amongst our adherents the
majority of the professional classes and the majority of the thinking
people amongst the community of moderate means. Why, if you consider
the legislation of the last seven or eight years, you will see how they
have been driven to embrace some sort of socialism. Nothing so
detestable and short-sighted as our financial policy has ever been known
in the history of the world. The middle classes, meaning by the middle
classes professional men and men of moderate means, bore the chief
burden of the war. They submitted to terrible taxation, to many
privations, besides the universal gift of their young blood. We won the
war and what was the result? The wealth of the country, through ghastly
legislation, drifted into the hands of the profiteering classes, the
wholesale shopkeepers, the ship owners, the factory owners, the mine
owners. The professional man with two thousand a year was able to save
a quarter of that before the war. After the war, taxation demanded that
quarter and more for income tax, thrust upon him an increased cost of
living, cut the ground from beneath his feet. It isn't either of the
two extremes - the aristocrat or the labouring man - where you must look
for the pulse of a country's prosperity. It is to the classes in
between, and, Lady Jane, they are flocking to our camp just as fast as
they can, just as fast as the country is heading for ruin under its
present Government."

"You are very convincing," she admitted. "Why have you not spoken so
plainly in the House?"

"The moment hasn't arrived," Tallente replied. "There will be a General
Election before many months have passed and that will be the end of the
present fools' paradise at St. Stephen's."

"And then?"

"We shan't abuse our power," he assured her. "What we aim at is a
National Party which will consider the interests of every class. That
is our reading of the term 'Democrat.' Our programme is not nearly so
revolutionary as you are probably led to believe, but we do mean to
smooth away, so far as we can from a practical point of view, the
inequalities of life. We want to sweep away the last remnants of

"Tell me why they were so anxious to gather you into the fold?" she

"I think for this reason," he explained. "Stephen Dartrey is a
brilliant writer, a great orator, and an inspired lawmaker. The whole
world recognises him as a statesman. It is his name and genius which
have made the Democratic Party possible. On the other hand, he is not
in the least a politician. He doesn't understand the game as it is
played in the House of Commons. He lives above those things. That is
why I suppose they wanted me. I have learnt the knack of apt debating
and I understand the tricks. Even if ever I become the titular head of
the party, Dartrey will remain the soul and spirit of it. If they were
not able to lay their hands upon some person like myself, I believe that

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Online LibraryE. Phillips OppenheimNobody's Man → online text (page 8 of 19)