E. PHILLIPS OPPENHEIM
Andrew Tallente stepped out of the quaint little train on to the
flower-bedecked platform of this Devonshire hamlet amongst the hills, to
receive a surprise so immeasurable that for a moment he could do nothing
but gaze silently at the tall, ungainly figure whose unpleasant smile
betrayed the fact that this meeting was not altogether accidental so far
as he was concerned.
"Miller!" he exclaimed, a little aimlessly.
"Why not?" was the almost challenging reply. "You are not the only
great statesman who needs to step off the treadmill now and then."
There was a certain quiet contempt in Tallente's uplifted eyebrows. The
contrast between the two men, momentarily isolated on the little
platform, was striking and extreme. Tallente had the bearing, the voice
and the manner which were his by heritage, education and natural
culture. Miller, who was the son of a postman in a small Scotch town,
an exhibitioner so far as regards his education, and a mimic where
social gifts were concerned, had all the aggressive bumptiousness of the
successful man who has wit enough to perceive his shortcomings. In his
ill-chosen tourist clothes, untidy collar and badly arranged tie, he
presented a contrast to his companion of which he seemed, in a way,
"You are staying near here?" Tallente enquired civilly.
"Over near Lynton. Dartrey has a cottage there. I came down
"Surely you were in Hellesfield the day before yesterday?"
Miller smiled ill-naturedly.
"I was," he admitted, "and I flatter myself that I was able to make the
speech which settled your chances in that direction."
Tallente permitted a slight note of scorn to creep into his tone.
"It was not your eloquence," he said, "or your arguments, which brought
failure upon me. It was partly your lies and partly your tactics."
An unwholesome flush rose in the other's face.
"Lies?" he repeated, a little truculently.
Tallente looked him up and down. The station master was approaching
now, the whistle had blown, their conversation was at an end.
"I said lies," Tallente observed, "most advisedly." The train was
already on the move, and the departing passenger was compelled to step
hurriedly into a carriage. Tallente, waited upon by the obsequious
station master, strolled across the line to where his car was waiting.
It was not until his arrival there that he realised that Miller had
offered him no explanation as to his presence on the platform of this
tiny wayside station.
"Did you notice the person with whom I was talking?" he asked the
"A tall, thin gentleman in knickerbockers? Yes, sir," the man replied.
"Part of your description is correct," Tallente remarked drily. "Do you
know what he was doing here?"
"Been down to your house, I believe, sir. He arrived by the early train
this morning and asked the way to the Manor."
"To my house?" Tallente repeated incredulously.
"It was the Manor he asked for, sir," the station master assured his
questioner. "Begging your pardon, sir, is it true that he was Miller,
the Socialist M.P.?"
"True enough," was the brief reply. "What of it?"
The man coughed as he deposited the dispatch box which he had been
carrying on the seat of the waiting car.
"They think a lot of him down in these parts, sir," he observed, a
Tallente made no answer to the station master's last speech and merely
waved his hand a little mechanically as the car drove off. His mind was
already busy with the problem suggested by Miller's appearance in these
parts. For the first few minutes of his drive he was back again in the
turmoil which he had left. Then with a little shrug of the shoulders he
abandoned this new enigma. Its solution must be close at hand.
Arrived at the edge of the dusty, white strip of road along which he had
travelled over the moors from the station, Tallente leaned forward and
watched the unfolding panorama below with a little start of surprise.
He had passed through acres of yellowing gorse, of purple heather and
mossy turf, fragrant with the aromatic perfume of sun-baked herbiage.
In the distance, the moorland reared itself into strange promontories,
out-flung to the sea. On his right, a little farm, with its cluster of
out-buildings, nestled in the bosom of the hills. On either side, the
fields still stretched upward like patchwork to a clear sky, but below,
down into the hollow, blotting out all that might lie beneath, was a
curious sea of rolling white mist, soft and fleecy yet impenetrable.
Tallente, who had seen very little of this newly chosen country home of
his, had the feeling, as the car crept slowly downward, of one about to
plunge into a new life, to penetrate into an unknown world. A man of
extraordinarily sensitive perceptions, leading him often outside the
political world in which he fought the battle of life, he was conscious
of a curious and grim premonition as the car, crawling down the
precipitous hillside, approached and was enveloped in the grey shroud.
The world which a few moments before had seemed so wonderful, the
sunlight, the distant view of the sea, the perfumes of flowers and
shrubs, had all gone. The car was crawling along a rough and stony
road, between hedges dripping with moisture and trees dimly seen like
spectres. At last, about three-quarters of the way down to the sea,
after an abrupt turn, they entered a winding avenue and emerged on to a
terrace. The chauffeur, who had felt the strain of the drive, ran a
little past the front door and pulled up in front of an uncurtained
window. Tallente glanced in, dazzled a little at first by the
unexpected lamplight. Then he understood the premonition which had sat
shivering in his heart during the long descent.
The mist, which had hung like a spectral curtain over the little demesne
of Martinhoe Manor, had almost entirely disappeared when, at a few
minutes before eight, with all traces of his long journey obliterated,
Andrew Tallente stepped out on to the stone-flagged terrace and looked
out across the little bay below. The top of the red sandstone cliff
opposite was still wreathed with mists, but the sunlight lay upon the
tennis lawn, the flower gardens below, and the rocks almost covered by
the full, swelling tide. Tall, and looking slimmer than ever in his
plain dinner garb, there were some indications of an hour of strange and
unexpected suffering in the tired face of the man who gazed out in
somewhat dazed fashion at the little panorama which he had been looking
forward so eagerly to seeing again. Throughout the long journey down
from town, he had felt an unusual and almost boyish enthusiasm for his
coming holiday. He had thought of his tennis racquet and fishing rods,
wondered about his golf clubs and his guns. Even the unexpected
encounter with Miller had done little more than leave an unpleasant
taste in his mouth. And then, on his way down from "up over," as the
natives called that little strip of moorland overhead, he had vanished
into the mist and had come out into another world.
"Andrew! So you are out here? Why did you not come to my room? Surely
your train was very punctual?"
Tallente remained for a moment tense and motionless. Then he turned
around. The woman who stood upon the threshold of the house, framed
with a little cascade of drooping roses, sought for his eyes almost
hungrily. He realised how she must be feeling. A dormant vein of
cynicism parted his lips as he held her fingers for a moment. His tone
and his manner were quite natural.
"We were, I believe, unusually punctual," he admitted. "What an
extraordinary mist! Up over there was no sign of it at all."
She shivered. Her eyes were still watching his face, seeking for an
answer to her unasked question. Blue eyes they were, which had been
beautiful in their day, a little hard and anxious now. She wore a white
dress, simple with the simplicity of supreme and expensive art. A rope
of pearls was her only ornament. Her hair was somewhat elaborately
coiffured, there was a touch of rouge upon her cheeks, and the
unscreened evening sunlight was scarcely kind to her rather wan features
and carefully arranged complexion. She still had her claims to beauty,
however. Tallente admitted that to himself as he stood there appraising
her, with a strange and almost impersonal regard,—his wife of thirteen
years. She was beautiful, notwithstanding the strained look of anxiety
which at that moment disfigured her face, the lurking fear which made
her voice sound artificial, the nervousness which every moment made
fresh demands upon her self-restraint.
"It came up from the sea," she said. "One moment Tony and I were
sitting out under the trees to keep away from the sun, and the next we
were driven shivering indoors; It was just like running into a fog bank
in the middle of the Atlantic on a hot summer's day."
"I found the difference in temperature amazing," he observed. "I, too,
dropped from the sunshine into a strange chill."
She tried to get rid of the subject.
"So you lost your seat," she said. "I am very sorry. Tell me how it
He shrugged his shoulders.
"The Democratic Party made up their mind, for some reason or other, that
I shouldn't sit. The Labour Party generally were not thinking of
running a candidate. I was to have been returned unopposed, in
acknowledgment of my work on the Nationalisation Bill. The Democrats,
however, ratted. They put up a man at the last moment, and—well, you
know the result—I lost."
"I don't understand English politics," she confessed, "but I thought you
were almost a Labour man yourself."
"I am practically," he replied. "I don't know, even now, what made them
"What about the future?"
"My plans are not wholly made."
For the first time, an old and passionate ambition prevailed against the
thrall of the moment.
"One of the papers this morning," she said eagerly, "suggested that you
might be offered a peerage."
"I saw it," he acknowledged. "It was in the Sun. I was once
unfortunate enough to be on the committee of a club which blackballed
Her mouth hardened a little.
"But you haven't forgotten your promise?"
"'Bargain' shall we call it?" he replied. "No, I have not forgotten."
"Tony says you could have a peerage whenever you liked."
"Then I suppose it must be so. Just at present I am not prepared to
write 'finis' to my political career."
The butler announced dinner. Tallente offered his arm and they passed
through the homely little hall into the dining room beyond. Stella came
to a sudden standstill as they crossed the threshold.
"Why is the table laid for two only?" she demanded. "Mr. Palliser is
"I was obliged to send Tony away—on important business," Tallente
intervened. "He left about an hour ago."
Once more the terror was upon her. The fingers which gripped her napkin
trembled. Her eyes, filled with fierce enquiry, were fixed upon her
husband's as he took his place in leisurely fashion and glanced at the
"Obliged to send Tony away?" she repeated. "I don't understand. He
told me that he had several days' work here with you."
"Something intervened," he murmured.
"Why didn't you wire?" she faltered, almost under her breath. "He
couldn't have had any time to get ready."
Andrew Tallente looked at his wife across the bowl of floating flowers.
"Ah!" he exclaimed. "I didn't think of that. But in any case I did not
make up my mind until I arrived that it was necessary for him to go."
There was silence for a time, an unsatisfactory and in some respects an
unnatural silence. Tallente trifled with his hors d'oeuvres and was
inquisitive about the sauce with which his fish was flavoured. Stella
sent away her plate untouched, but drank two glasses of champagne. The
light came back to her eyes, she found courage again. After all, she
was independent of this man, independent even of his name. She looked
across the table at him appraisingly. He was still sufficiently
good-looking, lithe of frame and muscular, with features well-cut
although a little irregular in outline. Time, however, and anxious work
were beginning to leave their marks. His hair was grey at the sides,
there were deep lines in his face, he seemed to her fancy to have
shrunken a little during the last few years. He had still the languid,
high-bred voice which she had always admired so munch, the same coolness
of manner and quiet dignity. He was a personable man, but after all he
was a failure. His career, so far as she could judge it, was at an end.
She was a fool to imagine, even for a moment, that her whole future lay
in his keeping.
"Have you any plans?" she asked him presently. "Another constituency?"
He smiled a little wearily. For once he spoke quite naturally.
"The only plan I have formulated at present is to rest for a time," he
She drank another glass of champagne and felt almost confident. She
told him the small events of the sparsely populated neighbourhood, spoke
of the lack of water in the trout stream, the improvement in the golf
links, the pheasants which a near-by landowner was turning down. They
were comparative newcomers and had seen as yet little of their
"I was told," she concluded, "that the great lady of the neighbourhood
was to have called upon me this afternoon. I waited in but she didn't
"And who is that?" he enquired.
"Lady Jane Partington of Woolhanger—a daughter of the Duke of
Barminster. Woolhanger was left to her by an old aunt, and they say
that she never leaves the place."
"An elderly lady?" he asked, merely with an intent of prolonging a
harmless subject of conversation.
"On the contrary, quite young," his wife replied. "She seems to be a
sort of bachelor-spinster, who lives out in that lonely place without a
chaperon and rules the neighborhood. You ought to make friends with
her, Andrew. They say that she is half a Socialist.—By the by, how
long are we going to stay down here?"
"We will discuss that presently," he answered.
The service of dinner came to its appointed end. Tallente drank one
glass of port alone. Then he rose, left the room by the French windows,
passed along the terrace and looked in at the drawing-room, where Stella
was lingering over her coffee.
"Will you walk with me as far as the lookout?" he invited. "Your maid
can bring you a cloak if you are likely to be cold."
She responded a little ungraciously, but appeared a few minutes later, a
filmy shawl of lace covering her bare shoulders. She walked by his side
to the end of the terrace, along the curving walk through the
plantation, and by the sea wall to the flagged space where some seats
and a table had been fixed. Four hundred feet below, the sea was
beating against jagged rocks. The moon was late and it was almost dark.
She leaned over and he stood by her side.
"Stella," he said, "you asked me at dinner when we were leaving here.
You are leaving to-morrow morning by the twelve-thirty train."
"What do you mean?" she demanded, with a sudden sinking of the heart.
"Please do not ask," he replied. "You know and I know. It is not my
wish to make public the story of our—disagreement."
She was silent for several moments, looking over into the black gulf
below, watching the swirl of the sea, listening to its dull booming
against the distant rocks, the shriek of the backward-dragged pebbles.
An owl flew out from some secret place in the cliffs and wheeled across
the bay. She drew her shawl around her with a little shiver.
"So this is the end," she answered.
"No doubt, in my way," he reflected, "I have been as great a
disappointment to you as you to me. You brought me your great wealth,
believing that I could use it towards securing just what you desired in
the way of social position. Perhaps that might have come but for the
war. Now I have become rather a failure."
"There was no necessity for you ever to have gone soldiering," she
reminded him a little hardly.
"As you say," he acquiesced. "Still, I went and I do not regret it. I
might even remind you that I met with some success."
"Pooh!" she scoffed. "What is the use of a few military distinctions?
What are an M.C. and a D.S.O. and a few French and Belgian orders going
to do for me? You know I want other things. They told me when I
married you," she went on, warming with her own sense of injury, "that
you were certain to be Prime Minister. They told me that the Coalition
Party couldn't do without you, that you were the only effective link
between them and Labour. You had only to play your cards properly and
you could have pushed out Horlock whenever you liked. And now see what
a mess you have made of things! You have built up Horlock's party for
him, he offers you an insignificant post in the Cabinet, and you can't
even win your seat in Parliament."
"Your epitome of my later political career has its weak points, but I
dare say, from your point of view, you have every reason for complaint,"
he observed. "Since I have failed to procure for you the position you
desire, our parting will have a perfectly natural appearance. Your
fortune is unimpaired—you cannot say that I have been extravagant—and
I assure you that I shall not regret my return to poverty."
"But you won't be able to live," she said bluntly. "You haven't any
income at all."
"Believe me," he answered quietly, "you exaggerate my poverty. In any
case, it is not your concern."
She paused. She was a woman of not very keen perceptions, but she
realised that if she were to proceed with the offer which was half
framed in her mind, the man by her side, with his, to her outlook,
distorted sense of honour, would become her enemy. She shrugged her
shoulders, and turning towards him, held out her hand.
"It is the end, then," she said. "Well, Andrew, I did my best according
to my lights, and I failed. Will you shake hands?"
He shook his head.
"I cannot, Stella. Let us agree to part here. We know all there is to
be known of one another, and we shall be able to say good-by without
She drifted slowly away from him. He watched her figure pass in and out
among the trees. She was unashamed, perhaps relieved,—probably, he
reflected, as he watched her enter the house, already making her plans
for a more successful future. He turned away and looked downwards. The
darkness seemed, if possible, to have become a little more intense, the
moaning of the sea more insistent. Little showers of white spray
enlaced the sombre rocks. The owl came back from his mysterious
journey, hovered for a moment over the cliff and entered his secret
home. Behind him, the lights in the house went out, one by one.
Suddenly he felt a grip upon his shoulder, a hot breath upon his cheek.
It was Stella, returned dishevelled, her lace scarf streaming behind,
her eyes lit with horror. "Andrew!" she cried. "It came over me—just
as I entered the house! What have you done with Anthony?"
Tallente's first impressions of Jane Partington were that an exceedingly
attractive but somewhat imperious young woman had surprised him in a
most undignified position. She had come cantering down the drive on a
horse which, by comparison with the Exmoor ponies which every one rode
in those parts, had seemed gigantic, and, finding a difficulty in making
her presence known, had motioned to him with her whip. He climbed down
from the steps where he had been busy fastening up some roses, removed a
nail from his mouth and came towards her.
"How is it that I can make no one hear?" she asked. "Do you know if
Mrs. Tallente is at home?"
Tallente was in no hurry to reply. He was busy taking in a variety of
pleasant impressions. Notwithstanding the severely cut riding habit and
the hard little hat, he decided that he had never looked into a more
attractively feminine face. For some occult reason, unconnected, he was
sure, with the use of any skin food or face cream, this young woman who
had the reputation of living out of doors, winter and summer, had a
complexion which, notwithstanding its faint shade of tan, would have
passed muster for delicacy and clearness in any Mayfair drawing-room.
Her eyes were soft and brown, her hair a darker shade of the same
colour. Her mouth, for all its firmness, was soft and pleasantly
curved. Her tone, though a trifle imperative, was kindly, gracious and
full of musical quality. Her figure was moderately slim, but
indistinguishable at that moment under her long coat. She possessed a
curious air of physical well-being, the well-being of a woman who has
found and is enjoying what she seeks in life.
"Won't you tell me why I can make no one hear?" she repeated, still
good-naturedly but frowning slightly at his silence.
"Mrs. Tallente is in London," he announced. "She has taken most of the
establishment with her."
The visitor fumbled in her side pocket and produced a diminutive ivory
case. She withdrew a card and handed it to Tallente, with a glance at
his gloved hands.
"Will you give this to the butler?" she begged. "Tell him to tell his
mistress that I was sorry not to find her at home."
"The butler," Tallente explained, "has gone for the milk. He shall have
the card immediately on his return."
She looked at him for a moment and then smiled.
"Do forgive me," she said. "I believe you are Mr. Tallente?"
He drew off his gloves and shook hands.
"How did you guess that?" he asked.
"From the illustrated papers, of course," she answered. "I have come to
the conclusion that you must be a very vain man, I have seen so many
pictures of you lately."
"A matter of snapshots," he replied, "for which, as a rule, the victim
is not responsible. You should abjure such a journalistic vice as
"Why?" she laughed. "They lead to such pleasant surprises. I had been
led to believe, for instance, by studying the Daily Mirror, that you
were quite an elderly person with a squint."
"I am becoming self-conscious," he confessed. "Won't you come in?
There is a boy somewhere about the premises who can look after your
horse, and I shall be able to give you some tea as soon as Robert gets
back with the milk."
He cooeed to the boy, who came up from one of the lower shelves of
garden, and she followed him into the hall. He looked around him for a
moment in some perplexity.
"I wonder whether you would mind coming into my study?" he suggested.
"I am here quite alone for the present, and it is the only room I use."
She followed him down a long passage into a small apartment at the
extreme end of the house.
"You are like me," she said. "I keep most of my rooms shut up and live
in my den. A lonely person needs so much atmosphere."
"Rather a pigsty, isn't it?" he remarked, sweeping a heap of books from
a chair. "I am without a secretary just now—in fact," he went on, with
a little burst of confidence engendered by her friendly attitude, "we
are in a mess altogether."
She laughed softly, leaning back amongst the cushions of the chair and
looking around the room, her kindly eyes filled with interest.
"It is a most characteristic mess," she declared. "I am sure an
interviewer would give anything for this glimpse into your tastes and
habits. Golf clubs, all cleaned up and ready for action; trout rod,
newly-waxed at the joints—you must try my stream, there is no water in
yours; tennis racquets in a very excellent press—I wonder whether
you're too good for a single with me some day? Typewriter—rather
dusty. I don't believe that you can use it."
"I can't," he admitted. "I have been writing my letters by hand for the
last two days."
"Men are helpless creatures! Fancy a great politician unable to write
his own letters! What has become of your secretary?"
Tallente threw some books to the floor and seated himself in the vacant
"I shall begin to think," he said, a little querulously, "that you don't
read the newspapers. My secretary, according to that portion of the
Press which guarantees to provide full value for the smallest copper
coin, has 'disappeared'."
"Really?" she exclaimed. "He or she?"
"He—the Honourable Anthony Palliser by name, son of Stobart Palliser,
who was at Eton with me."
"I expect I know his mother. What exactly do you mean by
Tallente was looking out of the window. A slight hardness had crept
into his tone and manner. He had the air of one reciting a story.
"The young man and I differed last Tuesday night," he said. "In the
language of the novelists, he walked out into the night and disappeared.
Only an hour before dinner, too. Nothing has been heard of him since."
"What a fatuous thing to do!" she remarked. "Shall you have to get
"Presently," he assented. "Just for the moment I am rather enjoying
She leaned back amongst the cushions of her chair and looked across at
him with interest, an interest which presently drifted into sympathy.
Even the lightness of his tone could not mask the inwritten weariness of
the man, the tired droop of the mouth, and the lacklustre eyes.
"Do you know," she said, "I have never been more intrigued than when I
heard you were really coming down here. Last summer I was in
Scotland—in fact I have been away every time the Manor has been open.
I am so anxious to know whether you like this part of the world."
"I like it so much," he replied, "that I feel like settling here for the
rest of my life."
She shook her head.
"You will never be able to do that," she said, "at least not for many
years. The country will need so much of your time. But it is
delightful to think that you may come here for your holidays."
"If you read the newspapers," he remarked, a little grimly, "you might
not be so sure that the country is clamouring for my services."
She waved away his speech with a little gesture of contempt.
"Rubbish! Your defeat at Hellesfield was a matter of political jobbery.
Any one could see through that. Horlock ought never to have sent you
there. He ought to have found you a perfectly safe seat, and of course
he will have to do it."
He shook his head.
"I am not so sure. Horlock resents my defeat almost as though it were a
personal matter. Besides, it is an age of young men, Lady Jane."
"Young men!" she scoffed. "But you are young."
"Am I?" he answered, a little sadly. "I am not feeling it just now.
Besides, there is something wrong about my enthusiasms. They are
becoming altogether too pastoral. I am rather thinking of taking up the
cultivation of roses and of making a terraced garden down to the sea.
Do you know anything about gardening, Lady Jane?"
"Of course I do," she answered, a little impatiently. "A very excellent
hobby it is for women and dreamers and elderly men. There is plenty of
time for you to take up such a pursuit when you have finished your
"Fifteen thousand intelligent voters have just done their best to tell
me that it is already finished," he sighed.
She made a little grimace.
"Am I going to be disappointed in you, I wonder?" she asked. "I don't
think so. You surely wouldn't let a little affair like one election
drive you out of public life? It was so obvious that you were made the
victim for Horlock's growing unpopularity in the country. Haven't you
realised that yourself—or perhaps you don't care to talk about these
things to an ignoramus such as I am?"
"Please don't believe that," he begged hastily. "I think yours is
really the common-sense view of the matter. Only," he went on, "I have
always represented, amongst the coalitionists, the moderate Socialist,
the views of those men who recognise the power and force of the coming
democracy, and desire to have legislation attuned to it. Yet it was the
Democratic vote which upset me at Hellesfield."
"That was entirely a matter of faction," she persisted. "That horrible
person Miller was sent down there, for some reason or other, to make
trouble. I believe if the election had been delayed another week, and
you had been able to make two more speeches like you did at the Corn
Exchange, you would have got in."
He looked at her in some surprise.
"That is exactly what I thought myself," he agreed. "How on earth do
you come to know all these things?"
"I take an interest in your career," she said, smiling at him, "and I
hate to see you so dejected without cause."
He felt a little thrill at her words. A queer new sense of
companionship stirred in his pulses. The bitterness of his suppressed
disappointment was suddenly soothed. There was something of the
excitement of the discoverer, too, in these new sensations. It seemed
to him that he was finding something which had been choked out of his
life and which was yet a real and natural part of it.
"You will make an awful nuisance of me if you don't mind," he warned
her. "If you encourage me like this, you will develop the most juvenile
of all failings—you will make me want to talk about myself. I am
beginning to feel terribly egotistical already."
She leaned a little towards him. Her mouth was soft with sweet and
feminine tenderness, her eyes warm with kindness.
"That is just what I hoped I might succeed in doing," she declared. "I
have been interested in your career ever since I had the faintest idea
of what politics meant. You could not give me a greater happiness than
to talk to me—about yourself."
Very soon tea was brought in. The homely service of the meal, and
Robert's plain clothes, seemed to demand some sort of explanation. It
was she who provided the opening.
"Will your wife be long away?" she enquired.
Tallente looked at his guest thoughtfully. She was pouring out tea from
an ordinary brown earthenware pot with an air of complete absorption in
her task. The friendliness of her seemed somehow to warm the atmosphere
of the room, even as her sympathy had stolen into the frozen places of
his life. For the moment he ignored her question. His eyes appraised
her critically, reminiscently. There was something vaguely familiar in
the frank sweetness of her tone and manner.
"I am going to make the most idiotically commonplace remark," he said.
"I cannot believe that this is the first time we have met."
"It isn't," she replied, helping herself to strawberry
"Are you in earnest?" he asked, puzzled.
"Do you mean that I have spoken to you?"
"Not only that but you have made me a present."
He searched the recesses of his memory in vain. She smiled at his
perplexity and began to count on her fingers.
"Let me see," she said, "exactly fourteen years ago you arrived in Paris
from London on a confidential mission to a certain person."
"To Lord Peters!" he exclaimed.
"You had half an hour to spare after you had finished your business, and
you begged to see the young people. Maggie Peters was always a friend
of yours. You came into the morning-room and I was there."
"Yes! I was at school in Paris, and I was spending my half-holiday with
"The little brown girl!" he murmured. "I never heard your name, and
when I sent the chocolates I had to send them to 'the young lady in
brown.' Of course I remember! But your hair was down your back, you had
freckles, and you were as silent as a mouse."
"You see how much better my memory is than yours," she laughed.
"I am not so sure," he objected. "You took me for the gardener just
"Not when you came down the steps," she protested, "and besides, it is
your own fault for wearing such atrociously old clothes."
"They shall be given away to-morrow," he promised.
"I should think so," she replied. "And you might part with the battered
straw hat you were wearing, at the same time."
"It shall be done," he promised meekly.
She became reminiscent.
"We were all so interested in you in those days. Lord Peters told us,
after you were gone, that some day you would be Prime Minister."
"I am afraid," he sighed, "that I have disappointed most of my friends."
"You have disappointed no one," she assured him firmly. "You will
disappoint no one. You are the one person in politics who has kept a
steadfast course, and if you have lost ground a little in the country,
and slipped out of people's political appreciation during the last
decade, don't we all know why? Every one of your friends—and your
wife, of course," she put in hastily, "must be proud that you have lost
ground. There isn't another man in the country who gave up a great
political career to learn his drill in a cadet corps, who actually
served in the trenches through the most terrible battles of the war, and
came out of it a Brigadier-General with all your distinctions."
He felt his heart suddenly swell. No one had ever spoken to him like
this. The newspapers had been complimentary for a day and had accepted
the verdict of circumstances the next. His wife had simply been the
reflex of other people's opinion and the trend of events.
"You make me feel," he told her earnestly, "almost for the first time,
that after all it was worth while."
The slight unsteadiness of his tone at first surprised, then brought her
almost to the point of confusion. Their eyes met—a startled glance on
her part, merely to assure herself that he was in earnest—and
afterwards there was a moment's embarrassment. She accepted a cigarette
and went back to her easy-chair.
"You did not answer the question I asked you a few minutes ago," she
reminded him. "When is your wife returning?"
The shadow was back on his face.
"Lady Jane," he said, "if it were not that we are old friends, dating
from that box of chocolates, remember, I might have felt that I must
make you some sort of a formal reply. But as it is, I shall tell you
the truth. My wife is not coming hack."
"Not at all?" she exclaimed.
"To me, never," he answered. "We have separated."
"I am so very sorry," she said, after a moment's startled silence. "I
am afraid that I asked a tactless question, but how could I know?"
"There was nothing tactless about it," he assured her. "It makes it
much easier for me to tell you. I married my wife thirteen years ago
because I believed that her wealth would help me in my career. She
married me because she was an American with ambitions, anxious to find a
definite place in English society. She has been disappointed in me.
Other circumstances have now presented themselves. I have discovered
that my wife's affections are bestowed elsewhere. To be perfectly
honest, the discovery was a relief to me."
"So that is why you are living down here like this?" she murmured.
"Precisely! The one thing for which I am grateful," he went on, "is
that I always refused to let my wife take a big country house. I
insisted upon an unpretentious place for the times when I could rest. I
think that I shall settle down here altogether. I can just afford to
live here if I shoot plenty of rabbits, and if Robert's rheumatism is
not too bad for him to look after the vegetable garden."
"Of course you are talking nonsense," she pronounced, a little curtly.
"You must go back to your work," she insisted.
"Keep this place for your holiday moments, certainly, but for the rest,
to talk of settling down here is simply wicked."
"What is my work?" he asked. "I tell you frankly that I do not know
where I belong. A very intelligent constituency, stuffed up to the
throat with schoolboard education, has determined that it would prefer a
representative who has changed his politics already four times. I seem
to be nobody's man. Horlock at heart is frightened of me, because he is
convinced that I am not sound, and he has only tried to make use of me
as a sop to democracy. The Whigs hate me like poison, hate me even
worse than Horlock. If I were in Parliament, I should not know which
Party to support. I think I shall devote my time to roses."
"And between September and May?"
"I shall hibernate and think about them."
"Of course," she said, with the air of one humoring a child, "you are
not in earnest. You have just been through a very painful experience
and you are suffering from it. As for the rest, you are talking
"Explain, please," he begged.
"You said just now that you did not know where your place was," she
continued. "You called yourself nobody's man. Why, the most ignorant
person who thinks about things could tell you where you belong. Even I
could tell you."
"Please do," he invited.
She rose to her feet.
"Walk round the garden with me," she begged, brushing the cigarette ash
from her skirt. "You know what a terrible out-of-door person I am.
This room seems to me close. I want to smell the sea from one of those
wonderful lookouts of yours."
He walked with her along one of the lower paths, deliberately avoiding
the upper lookouts. They came presently to a grass-grown pier. She
stood at the end, her firm, capable fingers clenching the stone wall,
her eyes looking seaward.
"I will tell you where you belong," she said. "In your heart you must
know it, but you are suffering from that reaction which comes from
failure to those people who are not used to failure. You belong to the
head of things. You should hold up your right, hand, and the party you
should lead should form itself about you. No, don't interrupt me," she
went on. "You and all of us know that the country is in a bad way. She
is feeling all the evils of a too-great prosperity, thrust upon her
after a period of suffering. You can see the dangers ahead—I learnt
them first from you in the pages of the reviews, when after the war you
foretold the exact position in which we find ourselves to-day.
Industrial wealth means the building up of a new democracy. The
democracy already exists but it is unrepresented, because those people
who should form its bulwark and its strength are attached to various
factions of what is called the Labour Party. They don't know themselves
yet. No Rienzi has arisen to hold up the looking-glass. If some one
does not teach them to find themselves, there will be trouble. Mind, I
am only repeating what you have told others."
"It is all true," he agreed.
"Then can't you see," she continued eagerly, "what party it is to which
you ought to attach yourself—the party which has broken up now into
half a dozen factions? They are all misnamed but that is no matter.
You should stand for Parliament as a Labour or a Socialist candidate,
because you understand what the people want and what they ought to have.
You should draw up a new and final programme."
"You are a wonderful person," he said with conviction, "but like all
people who are clear-sighted and who have imagination, you are also a
theorist. I believe your idea is the true one, but to stand for
Parliament as a Labour member you have to belong to one of the
acknowledged factions to be sure of any support at all. An independent
member can count his votes by the capful."
"That is the old system," she pointed out firmly. "It is for you to
introduce a new one. If necessary, you must stoop to political cunning.
You should make use of those very factions until you are strong enough
to stand by yourself. Through their enmity amongst themselves, one of
them would come to your side, anyway. But I should like to see you
discard all old parliamentary methods. I should like to see you speak
to the heart of the man who is going to record his vote."
"It is a slow matter to win votes in units," he reminded her.
"But it is the real way," she insisted. "Voting by party and government
by party will soon come to an end. It must. All that it needs is a
strong man with a definite programme of his own, to attack the whole
He looked away from the sea towards the woman by his side. The wind was
blowing in her face, blowing back little strands of her tightly coiled
hair, blowing back her coat and skirt, outlining her figure with soft
and graceful distinction. She was young, healthy and splendid, full of
all the enthusiasm of her age. He sighed a little bitterly.
"All that you say," he reminded her, "should have been said to me by the
little brown girl in Paris, years ago. I am too old now for great
She turned towards him with the pitying yet pleasant air of one who
would correct a child.
"You are forty-nine years old and three months," she said.
"How on earth did you know that?" he demanded.
"A valuable little red book called 'Who's Who.' You see, it is no use
your trying to pose as a Methuselah. For a politician you are a young
man. You have time and strength for the greatest of all tasks. Find
some other excuse, sir, if you talk of laying down the sword and picking
up the shuttle."
He looked back seawards. His eyes were following the flight of a
seagull, wheeling in the sunlight.
"I suppose you are right," he acknowledged. "No man is too old for
"I beg your pardon, sir."
They turned abruptly around. They had been so engrossed that they had
not noticed the sound of footsteps. Robert, a little out of breath, was
standing at attention. There was a disturbed look in his face, a tremor
in his voice.
"I beg your pardon, sir," he repeated, "there is—some one here to see
"Some one?" Tallente repeated impatiently.
Robert leaned a little forward. The effort at lowering his voice only
made his hoarse whisper sound more agitated.
"A police inspector, sir, from Barnstaple, is waiting in the study."
Mr Inspector Gillian of Barnstaple had no idea of denying his
profession. He had travelled over in a specially hired motor-car, and
he was wearing his best uniform. He rose to his feet at Tallente's
entrance and saluted a little ponderously.
"Mr. Andrew Tallente, sir?" he enquired.
Tallente silently admitted his identity, waved the inspector back to his
seat—the one high-backed and uncomfortable chair in the room—and took
an easy-chair himself.
"I have come over, sir," the man continued, "according to instructions
received by telephone from Scotland Yard. My business is to ask you a
few questions concerning the disappearance of the Honourable Anthony
Palliser, who was, I am given to understand, your secretary."
"Dear me!" Tallente exclaimed. "I had no idea that the young man's
temporary absence from polite society would be turned into a
The inspector took mental note of the levity in Tallente's tone, and
"The Honourable Anthony Palliser disappeared from here, sir, on Tuesday
night last, the night of your return from London," he said. "I have
come to ask you certain questions with reference to that disappearance."
"Go ahead," Tallente begged. "Care to smoke a cigar?"
"Not whilst on duty, thank you, sir," was the dignified reply.
"You will forgive my cigarette," Tallente observed, lighting one. "Now
you can go ahead as fast as you like."
"Question number one is this, sir. I wish to know whether Mr.
Palliser's abrupt departure from the Manor was due to any disagreement
"In a sense I suppose it was," the other acknowledged. "I turned him
out of the house."
The inspector did not attempt to conceal his gratification. He made a
voluminous note in his pocketbook.
"Am I to conclude, then, that there was a quarrel?" he enquired.
"I do not quarrel with people to whom I pay a salary," Tallente replied.
"When you say that you turned him out of the house, that rather implies
a quarrel, doesn't it? It might even imply—blows."
"You can put your own construction upon it," was the cool reply.
"Had you any idea where the honourable Anthony Palliser was going to?"
"I suggested the devil," Tallente confided blandly. "I expect he will
get there some time. I put up with him because I knew his father, but
he is not a young man to make a fuss about."
The inspector was a little staggered.
"I am to conclude, then," he said, "that you were dissatisfied with his
work as your secretary?"
"Absolutely," was the firm reply. "You have no idea what a mess he was
liable to make of things if he was left alone."
The inspector coughed.
"Mr. Tallente, sir," he said, "my instructions are to ask you to
disclose the nature of your displeasure, if any, with the Honourable Mr.
Anthony Palliser. In plain words, Scotland Yard desires to know why he
was turned away from his place at a moment's notice."
"I suppose it is the duty of Scotland Yard to be inquisitive in cases of
this sort," Tallente observed. "You can report to them the whole of the
valuable information with which I have already furnished you, and you
can add that I absolutely refuse to give any information respecting
the—er—difference of opinion between the young man and myself."
The inspector did not conceal his dissatisfaction.
"I shall ask, you, sir," he said with dignity, "to reconsider that
decision. Remember that it is the police who ask, and in cases of this
sort they have special privileges."
"As soon as any criminal case arises from Anthony Palliser's
disappearance," Tallente pointed out, "you will be in a position to ask
me questions from a different standpoint. For the present I have given
you just as much information as I feel inclined to. Shall we leave it
The inspector appeared to have become hard of hearing. He did not
attempt to rise from his chair.
"Being your private secretary, sir," he said, "the Honourable Anthony
Palliser would no doubt have access to your private papers?"
"Naturally," Tallente conceded.
"There might be amongst them papers of importance, papers whose
possession by parties in the other camp of politics—"
"Stop!" Tallente interrupted. "Inspector Gillan, you are an astute man.
He crossed the room and, with a key which he took from a chain attached
to his trouser button, opened a small but powerful safe fitted into the
wall. He opened it confidently enough, gazed inside and remained for a
moment transfixed. Then he took up a few little packets of papers,
glanced them through and replaced them. He still stood there, dangling
the key in his hard. The inspector watched him curiously.
"Anything missing, sir?" he asked.
Tallente swung the door to and came back to his chair.
"Yes!" he admitted.
"Can I make a note of the nature of the loss, sir?" the man asked,
moistening his pencil.
"A political paper of some personal consequence," Tallente replied.
"Its absence disquiets me. It also confirms my belief that Palliser is
lying doggo for a time."
"A hint as to the contents of the missing paper would be very
acceptable, sir," Inspector Gillian begged.
Tallente shook his head.
"For the present," he decided, "I can only repeat what I said a few
moments ago—I have given you just as much information as I feel
The inspector rose to his feet.
"My report will not be wholly satisfactory to Scotland Yard, sir," he
"My experience of the estimable body is that they take a lot of
satisfying," Tallente replied. "Will you take anything before you go,
"Nothing whatever, thank you, sir. At the risk of annoying you, I am
bound to ask this question. Will you tell me whether anything in the
nature of blows passed between you and the Honourable Anthony Palliser,
previous to his leaving your house?"
"I will not even satisfy your curiosity to that extent," Tallente
"It will be my duty, sir," the inspector said ponderously, "to examine
some of your servants."
"Scotland Yard can do that for themselves," Tallente observed. "My wife
and the greater part of the domestic staff left here for London a week
The representative of the law saluted solemnly.
"I am sorry that you have not felt inclined to treat me with more
confidence in this matter, Mr. Tallente," he said.
He took his leave then. Tallente heard him conversing for some time
with Robert and saw him in the garden, interviewing the small boy.
Afterwards, he climbed into his car and drove away. Tallente opened his
safe and once more let the little array of folded papers slip through
his hands. Then he rang the bell for Robert, who presently appeared.
"The inspector has quite finished with you?" his master asked.
Robert was a portly man, a little unhealthy in colour and a little short
of breath. He had been gassed in the war and his nerves were not what
they had been. It was obvious, as he stood on the other side of the
table, that he was trembling.
"Quite, sir. He was enquiring about Mr. Palliser."
His master nodded.
"I am afraid he will find it a little difficult to obtain any
information round here," he remarked. "There are certain things
connected with that young man which may throw a new light upon his
"Indeed, sir?" Robert murmured.
Tallente glanced towards the safe.
"Robert," he confided, "I have been robbed."
The man started a little.
"Indeed, sir?" he replied. "Nothing very valuable, I hope?"
"I have been robbed of papers," Tallente said quietly, "which in the
wrong hands might ruin me. Mr. Palliser had a key to that safe. Have
you ever seen it open?"
"When did Mr. Palliser arrive here?"
"On the evening train of the Monday, sir, that you arrived by on the
"Tell me, did he receive any visitors at all on the Tuesday?"
"There was a man came over from a house near Lynton, sir, said his name
"Have you any idea what he wanted?"
"No certain idea, sir," Robert replied doubtfully. "Now I come to think
of it, though, it seemed as though he had come to make Mr. Palliser
some sort of an offer. After I had let him out, he came back and said
something to Mr. Palliser about three thousand pounds, and Mr.
Palliser said he would let him know. I got the idea, somehow or other,
that the transaction, whatever it might have been, was to be concluded
on Tuesday night."
"Why didn't you tell me this before, Robert?" his master enquired.
"Other things drove it out of my mind, sir," the man confessed. "I
didn't look upon it as of much consequence. I thought it was something
to do with Mr. Palliser's private affairs."
Tallente glanced at the safe.
"I saw this man Miller at the station," he said, "when I arrived."
"That would be on his way back from here, sir," Robert acquiesced. "I
gathered that he was coming back again after dinner in a car."
"Did you hear a car at all that night?"
"I rather fancied I did," the man asserted. "I didn't take particular
"I am very much afraid, Robert," he said, "that wherever Mr. Palliser
is, those papers are."
"Very good, sir," he said, in a low tone.
"Any speculations as to that young man's whereabouts," Tallente
continued thoughtfully, "must necessarily be a matter of pure guesswork,
but supposing, Robert, he should have wandered in that mist the wrong
way—turned to the left, for instance, outside this window, instead of
to the right—he might very easily have fallen over the cliff."
"The walk is very unsafe in the dark, sir," Robert acquiesced, looking
down at the carpet.
"It was not my intention," Tallente remarked thoughtfully, "to kill the
young man. A brawl in front of the windows was impossible, so I took
him with me to the lookout. I suppose he was tactless and I lost my
temper. I struck him on the chin and he went backwards, through that
piece of rotten paling, you know, Robert—"
"I know, sir," the man interrupted, with a little moan. "Please don't!"
Tallente shrugged his shoulders.
"I took him at no disadvantage," he said coolly. "He knew how to use
the gloves and he was twenty years younger than I. However, there it is.
Backwards he went, all legs and arms and shrieks. And with him went the
papers he had stolen.—At twelve o'clock to-night, Robert, I must go
down after him."
"It's impossible, sir! It's a sheer precipice for four hundred feet!"
"Nothing of the sort," was the cool reply. "There are heaps of ledges
and little clumps of pines and yews. All that you will have to do is to
pull up the rope when I am ready. You can fasten it to a tree when I go
"It's not worth it, sir," the man protested anxiously. "No one will
ever find the body down there."
"Send the boy home to stay with his parents to-night," Tallente
continued. "Your wife, I suppose, can be trusted?"
"She is living up at the garage, sir," Robert answered. "Besides, she
is deaf. I'll tell her that I am sleeping in the house to-night as you
are not very well. And forgive me, sir—her ladyship left a message.
She hoped you would lunch with her to-morrow."
Tallente strolled out again in a few minutes, curiously impatient of the
restraint of walls, and clambered up the precipitous field at the back
of the Manor. Far up the winding road which led back into the world, a
motor-car was crawling on its way up over. He watched it through a pair
of field glasses. Leaning back in the tonneau with folded arms, as
though solemnly digesting a problem, was Inspector Gillian. Tallente
closed the glasses with a little snap and smiled.
"The Bucket type," he murmured to himself, "very much the Bucket type."
The moon that night seemed to be indulging in strange vagaries, now
dimly visible behind a mist of thin grey vapour, now wholly obscured
behind jagged masses of black cloud, and occasionally shining
brilliantly from a little patch of clear sky. Tallente waited for one
of the latter moments before he finally tested the rope which was wound
around the strongest of the young pine trees and stepped over the rustic
wooden paling at the edge of the lookout He stood there balanced between
earth and sky, until Robert, who watched him, shivered. "There is
nothing to fear," his master said coolly. "Remember, I am an old hand
at mountain climbing, Robert. All the same, if anything should happen,
you'd better say that we fancied we heard a cry from down below and I
went to see what it was. You understand?"
Tallente took a step into what seemed to be Eternity. The rope cut into
his hands for the first three or four yards, as the red sand crumbled
away beneath his feet, and he was obliged to grip for his life.
Presently he gained a little ledge, from which a single yew tree was
growing, and paused for breath.
"Are you all right, sir?" Robert called out from above.
"Quite," was the confident answer. "I shall be off again in a minute."
Tallente's head had been the wonder even of members of the Alpine Club,
years ago in Switzerland. He found himself now in this strangest of all
positions, absolutely steady and unmoved. Sheer below him, dark,
rushing waves broke upon the rocks, sending showers of glittering spray
upwards. Above, the little lookout with its rustic paling seemed almost
more than directly overhead. The few stars and the fugitive moon seemed
somehow set in a different sky. He felt a new kinship with a great gull
who came floating by. He had become himself a creature of the wild
places. Presently he began once more to let himself down, hand over
hand, to where the next little clump of trees showed a chance of a
precarious foothold. The rope chafed his fingers but he remained
absolutely steady. Once he trusted for a moment to a yew tree, growing
out of a fissure in the rock, which came out by the roots and went
hurtling down into space. From overhead he heard Robert's terrified
cry. The rope stood the strain of his sudden clutch, however, and all
was well. A little lower down, holding on with one hand, he took his
torch from his pocket and examined the surface of the cliff. Nothing
apparently had been disturbed, nor was there any sign of any heavy body
having been dashed through the undergrowth. Soon he went on again,
and, working a little to the left, stood for a moment upon a green,
turf-covered crag, a tiny plateau covered with the refuse of seagulls
and a few stunted trees, from amongst which a startled hawk rose with a
wild cry. He waited here until the moon shone once more and he could
see the little strip of shingle below. Nowhere could he find any trace
of the thing he sought.
At the end of half an hour's climbing, he reached the end of the rope.
The little cove, filled with tumbled rocks and a narrow strip of beach,
was still about eighty feet below. The slope here was far less
precipitous and there was a foothold in many places amongst the thinly
growing firs and dwarfed oaks. Calmly he let go the rope and commenced
to scramble. More than once his foot slipped, but he was always in a
position to save himself. The time came at last when he stood upon the
pebbly beach, surprised to find that his knees were shaking and his
breath coming fast. The little place was so enclosed that when he
looked upwards it seemed as though he were at the bottom of a pit, as
though the stars and the doubtful moon had receded and he was somehow in
the bowels of the earth instead of being on the sea level. There were
only a few feet of the shingle dry, and a great wave, breaking amongst
the huge rocks, drenched him with spray. He proceeded with his task,
however, searching methodically amongst the rocks, scanning the pebbly
beach with his torch, always amazed that nowhere could he find the
slightest trace of what he sought. Finally, drenched to the skin and
utterly exhausted, he commenced once more the upward climb. He was an
hour reaching the end of the rope. Then he blew the whistle and the
rest was easy. Nevertheless, when the paling came into sight and he
felt Robert's arms under his shoulders, he reeled over towards the seat
and lay there, his clothes caked in red mud, the knees of his
knickerbockers cut, blood on his hands and forehead, breathless. Robert
forced brandy down his throat, however, and in a moment or two he was
"A miracle!" he gasped. "There is nothing there."
"There was something dark, I fancied, upon the strip of beach, sir,"
"I thought so too. It was a tarred plank of timber."
"Then the tide must have reached him."
Tallente rose to his feet and looked over.
"The sea alone knows," he said. "For the first time, though, Robert, I
feel inclined to agree with the newspapers, who speak of the strange
disappearance of the Honourable Antimony Palliser. Could any man go
backwards over that palisading, do you think, and save his life?"
Robert shook his head.
"Miracles can't happen, sir," he muttered.
"Nevertheless," Tallente said, a little gloomily, "the sea never keeps
what the land gives it. My fate will rest with the tides."
Robert suddenly gripped his master's arm. The moon had disappeared
underneath a fragment of cloud and they stood in complete darkness.
Both men listened. From one of the paths which led through the grounds
from the beach, came the sound of muffled footsteps. A startled owl
flew out and wheeled over their heads with a queer little cry.
"Who's that in the grounds, Robert?" Tallente demanded.
"I've no idea, sir," the latter replied, his voice shaking. "The
cottage is empty. The boy went home—I saw him start off. There is no
one else about the place."
Nevertheless, the footsteps came nearer. By and by, through the trees,
came the occasional flash of an electric torch. Robert turned towards
the house but Tallente gripped him by the arm.
"Stop here," he muttered. "We couldn't get away. Any one would hear
our footsteps along this flinty path. Besides, there is the rope."
"It's someone else searching!" Robert whispered hoarsely.
The light grew nearer and nearer. A little way below, the path branched
to the right and the left. To the left it encircled the tennis lawn and
led to the Manor or back to the road. The path to the right led to the
little lookout upon which the two men were standing. The footsteps for
a moment hesitated. Then the light flashed out and approached. Whoever
the intruder might be, he was making his way directly towards them.
Tallente shrugged his shoulders.
"We must see this through, Robert," he said. "We were in a tighter
corner at Ypres, remember. Keep as quiet as you can. Now, then."
Tallente flashed on his own torch.
"Who's there?" he asked sternly.
There was no answer. The torch for a moment remained stationary, then
it began again to advance.
"What are you doing in my grounds?" Tallente demanded. "Who are you?"
A shape loomed into distinctness. A bulky man in dark clothes came into
"I am Gillian—Inspector Gillian. What are you doing out here, Mr.
Tallente laughed a little scornfully.
"It seems to me that the boot is on the other leg," he said. "I should
like to know what the mischief you mean by wandering around my grounds
at this hour of the night without my permission?"
The inspector completed his climb and stood in the little circle of
light. He took note of the rope and of Tallente's condition.
"My presence here, sir," the inspector announced, "is connected with the
disappearance of the Honourable Anthony Palliser."
"Confidence for confidence," Tallente replied. "So is mine."
The inspector moved to the palisading. The top rail had been broken, as
though it had given under the weight of some heavy body. He held up the
loose fragment, glanced downwards into the dark gulf and back again to
Tallente. "You've been over there," he said. "I have," Tallente
admitted. "I've made a search that I don't fancy you'd have tackled
yourself. I've been down the cliff to the beach."
"What reason had you for supposing that you might discover Mr.
Palliser's body there?" the other asked bluntly.
Tallente sat on the stone seat and lit a cigarette.
"I will take you into my confidence, Mr. Inspector," he said. "This
afternoon I strolled round here with a lady caller, just before you
came, and I fancied that I heard a faint cry. I took no notice of it at
the time, but to-night, after dinner, I wandered out here again, and
again I fancied I heard it. It got on my nerves to such an extent that
I fetched Robert here, a coil of rope, put on some shoes with spikes and
tried to remember that I was an Alpine climber."
"You've been down to the beach and back, sir?" the inspector asked,
looking over a little wonderingly.
"Every inch of the way. The last eighty feet or so I had to scramble."
"Did you discover anything, sir?"
"Not a thing. I couldn't even find a broken twig in any of the little
clumps of outgrowing trees. There wasn't a sign of the sand having been
disturbed anywhere down the face of the cliff, and I shouldn't think a
human being had been on that beach during our lifetimes. I have had my
night's work for nothing."
"It was just the cry you fancied you heard which made you undertake this
The inspector held up the broken rail.
"When was this smashed?" he enquired.
"I have no idea," Tallente answered. "All the woodwork about the place
"Doesn't it occur to you, sir, as being an extraordinarily dangerous
thing to put it back in exactly the same position as though it were
"Iniquitous," Tallente agreed.
The inspector made a mental note. Tallente threw the remains of his
cigarette into the sea. "I am going to bed now." he said. "Can I offer
you any refreshment, Mr. Inspector, or are your investigations not yet
"I thank you, sir, but I require nothing. I have some men up in the
wood there and I shall join them presently. I am staying in the
Tallente pointed to the rope.
"If you would care to search for yourself, Mr. Inspector, we'll help
The man shook his head.
"Scarcely a job for a man of my build, sir. I have a professional
climber coming to-morrow. I wish you had informed me of your intention
to go down to-night."
"If you had informed me of your intention to remain in the neighborhood,
that might have been possible," was the cool reply. The man took the
loose wooden rail from its place and held it under his arm. "Walking
off with a portion of my fence, eh?" Tallente asked.
The inspector made no direct reply. He turned his torch on to the
"A clue?" Tallente asked him lightly. The other turned away. "It is
not my place, sir," he announced, "to share any discovery I might make
with a person who has deliberately refused to assist the law."
"No one has convinced me yet," Tallente replied, "that Palliser's
disappearance is a matter in which the law need concern itself." The
inspector coughed. "I wish you good night, sir." He disappeared along
the narrow path. They listened to his retreating footsteps. Tallente
picked up his end of the rope. "I was right," he said, as he led the
way back to the house. "Quite the Inspector Bucket type."
At noon the next day, Tallente, nervously as well as physically
exhausted with the long climb from the Manor, turned aside from the
straight, dusty road and seated himself upon a lichen-covered boulder.
He threw his cap on the ground, filled and lighted an old briar pipe,
and gazed with a queer mixture of feelings across the moorland to where
Woolhanger spread itself, a queer medley of dwelling house and farm
buildings, strangely situated at the far end of the table-land he was
crossing, where the moor leaned down to a great hollow in the hills.
The open stretch of common which lay between him and his destination had
none of the charm of the surrounding country. It was like a dark spot
set in the midst of the rolling splendours of the moorland proper.
There were boulders of rock of unknown age, dark patches of peat land,
where even in midsummer the mud oozed up at the lightest footfall, pools
and sedgy places, the home and sometimes the breeding place of the
melancholy snipe. Of colour there was singularly little. The heather
bushes were stunted, their roots blackened as though with fire, and even
the yellow of the gorse shone with a dimmer lustre. But in the
distance, a flaming carpet of orange and purple stretched almost to the
summit of the brown hills of kindlier soil, and farther round,
westwards, richly cultivated fields, from which the labourers seemed to
hang like insects in the air, rolled away almost to the clouds.
Tallente looked at them a little wearily, impressed with the allegorical
significance of his position. It seemed to him that he was in the land
to which he belonged, the barren land of desolation and failure. The
triumphs of the past failed for a moment to thrill his pulses. The
memory of his well-lived and successful life brought him not an atom of
consolation. The present was all that mattered, and the present had
brought him to the gates of failure.—After all, what did a man work
for, he wondered? What was the end and aim of it all? Life at
Martinhoe Manor, with a faithful but terrified manservant, bookshelves
ready to afford him the phantasmal satisfaction of another man's
thoughts, sea and winds, beauties of landscape and colour, to bring him
to the threshold of an epicurean pleasure which needed yet that one
pulsating link with humanity to yield the full meed of joy and content.
It all came back to the old story of man's weakness, he thought, as he
rose to his feet, his teeth almost savagely clenching his pipe. He had
become a conqueror of circumstances only to become a victim of the
primitive needs of life.
At about a quarter of a mile from the house, the road branched away to
the left to disappear suddenly over the edge of a drop of many hundreds
of feet. Tallente passed through a plain white gate, down an avenue of
dwarfed oaks, to emerge into an unexpectedly green meadow, cloven
through the middle with a straight white avenue. Through another gate
he passed into a drive which led through flaming banks of rhododendrons,
now a little past their full glory, to the front of the house, a long
and amplified building which, by reason of many additions, had become an
abode of some pretensions. A manservant answered his ring at once and
led him into a cool, white stone hall, the walls of which were hung from
floor to ceiling with hunting and sporting trophies.
"Her ladyship is still at the farm, sir," the man announced. "She said
if you came before she returned would you care to step round?"
Tallente signified his assent and was led through the house, across a
more extensive garden, from which a marvellous view of the valley and
the climbing slopes behind held him spellbound, by the side of a small,
quaintly shaped church, to a circular group of buildings of considerable
extent. The man conducted him to the front of a white-plastered cottage
covered with roses, and knocked at the door.
"This is her ladyship's office, sir," he announced.
Lady Jane's invitation to enter was clear and friendly. Tallente found
her seated behind a desk, talking to a tall man in riding clothes, who
swung around to eye the newcomer with a curiosity which seemed somehow
not altogether friendly. Lady Jane held out her hand and smiled
"Do come in, Mr. Tallente," she begged. "I can't tell you how glad I
am to see you. Now you will believe, won't you, that I am not
altogether an idler in life? This is my agent, Mr. Segerson—Mr.
Lionel Segerson held out his hand. He was a tall, well-built young
Devonian, sunburnt, with fair curly hair, a somewhat obstinate type of
countenance, and dressed in the dandified fashion of the sporting
"Glad to know you, Mr. Tallente," he said, in a tone which lacked
enthusiasm. "I hope you're going to stay down in these parts for a
Tallente made only a monosyllabic reply, and Lady Jane, with a little
gesture of apology, continued her conversation with Segerson.
"I should like you," she directed, "to see James Crockford for yourself.
Try and explain my views to him—you know them quite well. I want him
to own his land. You can tell him that within the last two years I have
sold eleven farms to their tenants, and no one could say that I have not
done so on easy terms. But I need further convincing that Crocker is in
earnest about the matter, and that he will really work to make his farm
a success. In five good years he has only saved a matter of four
hundred pounds, although his rental has been almost insignificant. That
is the worst showing of any of the tenants on the estate, and though if
I had more confidence in him I would sell on a mortgage, I don't feel
inclined to until he has shown that he can do better. Tell him that he
can have the farm for two thousand pounds, but he must bring me eight
hundred in cash and it must not be borrowed money. That ought to
satisfy him. He must know quite well that I could get three thousand
pounds for it in the open market."
"These fellows never take any notice of that," Segerson remarked.
"Ungrateful beggars, all of them. I'll tell him what you say, Lady
"Anything else?" the young man asked, showing a disposition to linger.
"Nothing, thanks, until to-morrow morning." There was even then a slight
unwillingness in his departure, which provoked a smile from Lady Jane as
the door closed.
"The young men of to-day are terribly spoilt," she said. "He expected
to be asked to lunch."
"I am glad he wasn't," Tallente observed.
"Why not? He is quite a nice young man."
"No doubt," Tallente agreed, without conviction. "However, I hate young
men and I want to talk to you."
"Young men are tiresome sometimes," she agreed, rising from her chair.
"And older ones too, I am afraid!"
She closed her desk and he stood watching her. She was wearing an
extraordinarily masculine garb—a covert-coating riding costume, with
breeches and riding boots concealed under a long coat—but she
contrived, somehow, to remain altogether feminine. She stood for a
moment looking about her, as though wondering whether there were
anything else to be done, a capable figure, attractive because of her
"Sarah," she called out.
The sound of a typewriter in an inner room ceased. The door was opened
and a girl appeared on the threshold.
"You won't see me again to-day unless you send up for me," her mistress
announced. "Let me have the letters to sign before five. Try and get
away early, if you can. The car is going in to Lynton. Perhaps you
would like the ride?"
"I should enjoy it very much, your ladyship," the girl replied
gratefully. "There is really very little to do this afternoon."
"You can bring the letters whenever you like, then," Lady Jane told her,
"and let Martin know that you are going in with him."
"You study your people, I see," Tallente remarked, as they strolled
together back to the house.
"I try," she assented. "I try to do what I can in my little community
here, very much as you, in a far greater way, try to study the people in
your political programme. Of course," she went on, "it is far easier
for me. The one thing I try to develop amongst them is a genuine, not
a false spirit of independence. I want them to lean upon no one. I
have no charities in connection with the estate, no soup kitchens or
coal at Christmas, or anything of that sort. My theory is that every
person is the better for being able to look after himself, and my idea
of charity is placing him in a position to be able to do it. I don't
want to be their Lady of the Manor and accept their rents and give them
a dinner. I try to encourage them to save money and to buy their own
farms. The man here who owns his own farm and makes it pay is in a
position to lead a thoroughly self-respecting and honourable life. He
ought to get what there is to be got out of life, and his children
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
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
"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.
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
"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
"One of the world's successful men," he repeated. "Is that how I seem
"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
"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
"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
"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."
"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
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
"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."
"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
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
"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
"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
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
"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
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
in his ear. Nora had left Miller in the background and was standing by
"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."
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
"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?"
"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
"You believe that they have a greater hold upon the country than we
"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
"Well, well," Mr. Horlock interjected, with a return of his official
genial manner, "we'll let sleeping dogs lie. Have you made any plans,
"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
"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
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
"God bless my soul!" the Prime Minister exclaimed. "Where is Palliser?
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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."
"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
"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
"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
He struck the bell viciously. His visitor turned away with a faint
"Don't annoy me," he begged, "or I may some day have to send you to the
House of Lords!"
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
"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
"You refused it?"
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.
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."
"You might be forced to change them."
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
"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
"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
"Let us have an understanding," she said. "You do not desire my return
"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."
"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.
"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
"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?"
"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
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?"
"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."
"Not later than five, please," Nora called out. "You shall have
muffins, if I can get them."
"She's got her eye on you," the old lady chuckled. "Most dangerous
child in London, they all tell me. You're warned, Andrew."
He smiled as he raised her fingers to his lips.
"Is my danger political or otherwise?" he whispered.
"Otherwise, I should think," was the prompt retort. "You are too
British to change our politics, but thank goodness infidelity is one of
the cosmopolitan virtues. You were never the man to marry a
plaster-cast type of wife, Andrew, for all her millions. I could have
done better for you than that. What's this they are telling me about
Tallente stiffened a little.
"A good many people seem to be talking about Tony Palliser," he
"You shouldn't have let your wife make such an idiot of herself with
him—lunching and dining and theatring all the time. And now they say
he has disappeared. Poor little man! What have you done to him,
"I can see that I shall have to take you into my confidence," he
"You needn't tell me a single word, because I shouldn't believe you if
you did. Are you staying here with your wife?"
"No," Tallente answered. "I am back at my old rooms in Charges Street."
The old lady patted him on the arm and dismissed him.
"You see, I've found out all I wanted to know!" she chuckled.
Dartrey had been called unexpectedly to the north, to a great Labour
conference, and Tallente, waiting for his return, promised within the
next forty-eight hours, found himself rather at a loose end. He avoided
the club, where he would have been likely to meet his late political
associates, and spent the morning after his visit to the Prime Minister
strolling around the Park, paying visits to his tailor and hosier, and
lunched by himself a little sadly in a fashionable restaurant. At five
o'clock he found his way to Westminster and discovered Nora Miall's
flat. A busy young person in pince-nez and a long overall, who
announced herself as Miss Miall's secretary, was in the act of showing
out James Miller as he rang the bell. "Any news?" the latter asked,
after Tallente had found it impossible to avoid shaking hands. "I am
waiting for Mr. Dartrey's return. No, there is no particular news that I
"Dartrey's had to go north for a few days," Miller confided officiously.
"I ought to have gone too, but some one had to stay and look after
things in the House. Rather a nuisance his being called away just now."
Tallente preserved a noncommittal silence. Miller rolled a cigarette
hastily, took up his unwrapped umbrella and an ill-brushed bowler hat.
"Well, I must be going," he concluded. "If there is anything I can do
for you during the chief's absence, look me up, Mr. Tallente. It's all
the same, you know—Dartrey or me—Demos House in Parliament Street, or
the House. You haven't forgotten your way there yet, I expect?"
With which parting shaft Mr. James Miller departed, and the secretary,
Opening the door of Nora's sitting room, ushered Tallente in.
"Mr. Tallente," she announced, with a subdued smile, "fresh from a most
engaging but rather one-sided conversation with Mr. Miller."
Nora was evidently neither attired nor equipped this afternoon for a tea
party at Claridge's. She wore a dark blue princess frock, buttoned
right up to the throat. Her hair was brushed straight back from her
head, revealing a little more completely her finely shaped forehead.
She was seated before a round table covered with papers, and Tallente
fancied, even as he crossed the threshold, that there was an electric
atmosphere in the little apartment, an impression which the smouldering
fire in her eyes, as she glanced up, confirmed. The change in her
expression, however, as she recognised her visitor, was instantaneous.
A delightful smile of welcome chased away the sombreness of her face.
"My dear man," she exclaimed, "come and sit down and help me to forget
that annoying person who has just gone out!"
"Miller is not one of your favorites, then?"
"Isn't he the most impossible person who ever breathed." she replied.
"He was a conscientious objector during the war, a sex fanatic
since—Mr. Dartrey had to use all his influence to keep him out of
prison for writing those scurrulous articles in the Comet—and I think
he is one of the smallest-minded, most untrustworthy persons I ever met.
For some reason or other, Stephen Dartrey believes in him. He has a
wonderful talent for organization and a good deal of influence with the
trades unions.—By the by, it's all right about the muffins."
She rang the bell and ordered tea. Tallente glanced for a moment about
the room. The four walls were lined with well-filled bookcases, but the
mural decorations consisted—except for one wonderful nude figure, copy
of a well-known Rodin—of statistical charts and shaded maps. There
were only two signs of feminine occupation: an immense bowl of red
roses, rising with strange effect from the sea of manuscript, pamphlets,
and volumes of reference, and a wide, luxurious couch, drawn up to the
window, through which the tops of a little clump of lime trees were just
visible. As she turned back to him, he noticed with more complete
appreciation the lines of her ample but graceful figure, the more
remarkable because she was neither tall nor slim.
"So that was your wife at Claridge's yesterday afternoon?" she remarked,
a little abruptly.
He assented in silence. Her eyes sought his speculatively.
"I know that Lady Clanarton is a terrible gossip," she went on. "Was
she telling me the truth when she said that your married life was not an
"She was telling you the truth," Tallente admitted.
"I like to know everything," she suggested quietly. "You must remember
that we shall probably become intimates."
"I did my wife the injustice of marrying her for money," Tallente
explained. "She married me because she thought that I could provide her
with a social position such as she desired. Our marriage was a double
failure. I found no opportunity of making use of her money, and she was
discontented with the value she received for it. We have within the
last few days agreed to separate. Now you know everything," he added,
with a little smile, "and curiously enough, considering the brevity of
our acquaintance, you know it before anybody else in the world except
"I like to know everything about the people I am interested in," she
admitted. "Besides, your story sounds so quaint. It seems to belong,
somehow or other, to the days of Anthony Trollope and Jane Austen. I
suppose that is because I always feel that I am living a little way in
Tea was brought in, and a place cleared for the tray upon a crowded
table. Afterwards she lit a cigarette and threw herself upon the
"Turn your chair around towards me," she invited. "This is the hour I
like best of any during the day. Do you see what a beautiful view I
have of the Houses of Parliament? And there across the river, behind
that mist, the cesspool begins. Sometimes I lie here and think. I see
right into Bermondsey and Rotherhithe and all those places and think out
the lives of the people as they are being lived. Then I look through
those wonderful windows there—how they glitter in the sunshine, don't
they!—and I think I hear the men speak whom they have sent to plead
their cause. Some Demosthenes from Tower Hill exhausts himself with
phrase-making, shouts himself into a perspiration, drawing lurid,
pictures of hideous and apparent wrongs, and a hundred or so
well-dressed legislators whisper behind the palms of their hands, make
their plans for the evening and trot into their appointed lobbies like
sheep when the division bell rings. It is the most tragical epitome of
inadequacy the world has ever known."
"Have you Democrats any fresh inspiration, then?" he asked.
"Of course we have," she rapped out sharply. "It isn't like you to ask
such a question. The principles for which we stand never existed
before, except academically. No party has ever been able to preach them
within the realm of practical politics, because no party has been
comprehensive enough. The Labour Party, as it was understood ten years
ago, was a pitiful conglomeration of selfish atoms without the faintest
idea of coordination. It is for the souls of the people we stand, we
Democrats, whether they belong to trades unions or not, whether they
till the fields or sweat in the factories, whether they bend over a desk
or go back and forth across the sea, whether they live in small houses
or large, whether they belong to the respectable middle classes whom the
after-the-war legislation did its best to break, or to the class of
actual manual laborers."
"I don't see what place a man like Miller has in your scheme of things,"
he observed, a little restlessly.
She shrugged her shoulders.
"Miller is a limpet," she said. "He has posed as a man of brains for
half a generation. His only real cleverness is an unerring but selfish
capacity for attaching himself to the right cause. We can't ignore him.
He has a following. On the other hand, he does not represent our
principles any more than Pitt would if he were still alive."
"What will be your position really as regards the two main sections of
the Labour Party?" he asked. "We are absorbing the best of them, day by
day," she answered quickly. "What is left of either will be merely the
scum. The people will come to us. Their discarded leaders can crawl
back to obscurity. The people may follow false gods for a very long
time, but they have the knack of recognising the truth when it is shown
"You have the gift of conviction," he said thoughtfully.
She shrugged her shoulders.
"Our cause speaks, not I," she declared. "Every word I utter is a waste
of breath, a task of supererogation. You can't associate with Stephen
Dartrey for a month without realising for yourself what our party means
and stands for. So—enough. I didn't ask you here to undertake any
missionary work. I asked you, as a matter of fact, for my own pleasure.
Take another cigarette and pass me one, please. And here's another
cushion," she added, throwing it to him. "You look as though you needed
it." He settled down more comfortably. He had the pleasant feeling of
being completely at his ease.
"So far as entertaining you is concerned," he confessed, "I fear I am
likely to be a failure. I am beginning to feel like a constant note of
interrogation. There is so much I want to know."
"Proceed, then. I am resigned," she said with a smile. "About
yourself. I just knew of you as the writer of one or two articles in
the reviews. Why have I never heard more of you?"
"One reason," she confided, "is because I am so painfully young. I
haven't had time yet to become a wonderful woman. You see, I have the
tremendous advantage of not having known the world except from
underneath a pigtail, while the war was on. I was able to bring to
these new conditions an absolutely unbiassed understanding."
"But what was your upbringing?" he asked. "Your father, for instance?"
"Is this going to be a pill for you?" she enquired, with slightly
wrinkled forehead. "He was professor of English at Dresden University.
We were all living there when the war broke out, but he was such a
favourite that they let us go to Paris. He died there, the week after
peace was declared. My mother still lives at Versailles. She was
governess to Lady Clanarton's grandchildren, hence my presence yesterday
in those aristocratic circles."
"And you live here alone?"
"With my secretary—the fuzzyhaired young person who was just getting
rid of Mr. Miller for me when you arrived. We are a terribly advanced
couple, in our ideas, but we lead a thoroughly reputable life. I
sometimes think," she went on, with a sigh, "that all one's tendencies
towards the unusual can be got rid of in opinions. Susan, for
instance—that is my secretary's name—pronounces herself unblushingly
in favour of free love, but I don't think she has ever allowed a man to
kiss her in her life."
"Your own opinions?" he asked curiously. "I suppose they, too, are a
little revolutionary, so far as regards our social laws?"
"I dare not even define them," she acknowledged, "they are so entirely
negative. Somehow or other, I can't help thinking that the present
system will die out through the sheer absurdity of it. We really shan't
need a crusade against the marriage laws. The whole system is
committing suicide as fast as it can."
"How old are you?" he asked.
"Twenty-four," she answered promptly.
"And supposing you fell in love—taking it for granted that you have not
done so already—should you marry?"
Her eyes rested upon his, a little narrowed, curiously and pleasantly
reflective. All the time the corners of her sensitive mouth twitched a
"To tell you the truth," she confided, with a somewhat evasive air, "I
have been so busy thinking out life for other people that I have never
stopped to apply its general principles to myself."
"You are a sophist," he declared.
"I have not your remarkable insight," she laughed mockingly.
"How this came about I don't even quite know," Tallente remarked, an
hour or so later, as he laid down the menu and smiled across the corner
table in the little Soho restaurant at his two companions.
"I can tell you exactly," Nora declared. "You are in town for a few
days only, and I want to see as much of you as I can; Susan here is
deserting me at nine o'clock to go to a musical comedy; I particularly
wanted a sole Georges, and I knew, if Susan and I came here alone, a
person whom we neither of us like would come and share our table.
Therefore, I made artless enquiries as to your engagements for the
evening. When I found that you proposed to dine alone in some hidden
place rather than run the risk of meeting any of your political
acquaintances at the club, I went in for a little mental suggestion."
"I see," he murmured. "Then my invitation wasn't a spontaneous one?"
"Not at all," she agreed. "I put the idea into your head."
"And now that we are here, are you going to stretch me on the rack and
delve for my opinions on all sorts of subjects? is Miss Susan there
going to take them down in shorthand on her cuff and you make a report
to Dartrey when he comes back to-morrow?"
She laughed at him from underneath her close-fitting, becoming little
hat. She was biting an olive with firm white teeth.
"After hours," she reassured him. "Susan and I are going to talk a
little nonsense after the day's work. You may join in if you can unbend
so far. We shall probably eat more than is good for us—I had a cup of
coffee for lunch—and if you decide to be magnificent and offer us wine,
we shall drink it and talk more nonsense than ever."
He called for the wine list.
"I thought we were going to discuss the effect of Grecian philosophy
upon the Roman system of government."
She shook her head.
"You're a long way out," she declared, "Our conversation will skirt the
edges of many subjects. We shall speak of the Russian Ballet, Susan and
I will exchange a few whispered confidences about our admirers, we shall
discuss even one who comes in and goes out, with subtle references to
their clothes and morals, and when you and I are left alone we may even
indulge in the wholesome, sentimental exercise of a little flirtation."
"There you have me," he confessed. "I know a little about everything
else you have mentioned."
"A very good opening." she approved. "Keep it till Susan has gone and
then propose yourself as a disciple. There is only one drawback about
this place," she went on, nodding curtly across the room to Miller. "So
many of our own people come here. Mr. Miller must be pleased to see us
"Why?" Tallente asked. "Is he an admirer?"
Nora's face was almost ludicrously expressive.
"He would like to he," she admitted, "but, thick-skinned though he is, I
have managed to make him understand pretty well how I feel about him.
You'll find him a thorn in your side," she went on reflectively.
"You see, if our party has a fault, it is in a certain lack of system.
We have only a titular chief and no real leader. Miller thinks that
post is his by predestination. Your coming is beginning to worry him
already. It was entirely on your account he paid me that visit this
"To be perfectly frank with you," Tallente sighed, "I should find Miller
a loathsome coadjutor."
"There are drawbacks to everything in life," Nora replied. "Long before
Miller has become anything except a nuisance to you, you will have
realised that the only political party worth considering, during the
next fifty years, at any rate, will be the Democrats. After that, I
shouldn't be at all surprised if the aristocrats didn't engineer a
revolution, especially if we disenfranchise them.—Susan, you have a new
hat on. Tell me at once with whom you are going to Daly's?"
"No one who counts," the girl declared, with a little grimace. "I am
going with my brother and a very sober married friend of his."
"After working hours," Nora confessed, glancing critically at the sole
which had just been tendered for Tallente's examination, "the chief
interest of Susan and myself, as you may have observed, lies in food and
in your sex. I think we must have what some nasty German woman once
called the man-hunger."
"It sounds cannibalistic," Tallente rejoined. "Have I any cause for
"Not so far as I am concerned," Susan assured him. "I have really found
my man, only he doesn't know it yet. I am trying to get it into his
brain by mental suggestion."
"You wouldn't think Susan would be so much luckier than I, would you?"
Nora observed, studying her friend reflectively. "I am really much
better-looking, but I think she must have more taking ways. You needn't
be nervous, Mr. Tallente. You are outside the range of our ambitions.
I shall have to be content with some one in a humbler walk of life."
"Aren't you a little over-modest?" he asked. "You haven't told me much
about the social side of this new era which you propose to inaugurate,
but I imagine that intellect will be the only aristocracy."
"Even then," Norah sighed, "I am lacking in confidence. To tell you the
truth, I am not a great believer in my own sex. I don't see us
occupying a very prominent place in the politics of the next few
decades. The functions of woman were decided for her by nature and a
million years of revolt will never alter them."
Tallente was a little surprised.
"You mean that you don't believe in woman Member of Parliament, doctors
and lawyers, and that sort of thing?"
"In a general way, certainly not," she replied. "Women doctors for
women and children, yes! Lawyers—no! Members of Parliament—certainly
not! Women were made for one thing and to do that properly should take
all the energy they possess."
"You are full of surprises," Tallente declared. "I expected a miracle
of complexity and I find you almost primitive." She laughed. "Then
considering the sort of man you are, I ought to have gone up a lot in
"There are a very few higher notches," he assured her, smiling, "than
the one where you now sit enthroned."
Nora glanced at her wrist watch.
"Susan dear, what time do you have to join your friends?" she asked.
Susan shook her head.
"Nothing doing. I've got my seat. I am going when I've had my dinner
comfortably. There's fried chicken coming and no considerations of
friendship would induce me to hurry away from it."
Nora sighed plaintively.
"There is no doubt about it, women do lack the sporting instinct," she
lamented. "Now if we'd both been men, and Mr. Tallente a charming
woman, I should have just given you a wink, you would have muttered
something clumsy about an appointment, shuffled off and finished your
"Our sex isn't capable of such sacrifices," Susan declared, leaning back
to enable the waiter to fill her glass. "There's the champagne, too."
The meal came to a conclusion with scarcely another serious word. Susan
departed in due course, and Tallente called for his bill, a short time
afterwards, with a feeling of absolute reluctance.
"Shall we try and get in at a show somewhere?" he suggested.
She shook her head.
"Not to-night. Four nights a week I go to bed early and this is one of
them. Let's escape, if we can, before Mr. Miller can make his way over
here. I know he'll try and have coffee with us or something."
Tallente was adroit and they left the restaurant just as Miller was
rising to his feet. Nora sprang into the waiting taxi with a little
laugh of triumph and drew her skirts on one side to make room for her
escort. They drove slowly off along the hot and crowded street, with
its long-drawn-out tangle of polyglot shops, foreign-looking restaurants
and delicatessen establishments. Every one who was not feverishly busy
was seated either at the open windows of the second or third floor, or
out on the pavement below. The city seemed to be exuding the soaked-in
heat of the long summer's day. The women who floated by were dressed in
the lightest of muslins; even the plainest of them gained a new charm in
their airy and butterfly-looking costumes. The men walked bareheaded,
waistcoatless, fanning themselves with straw hats. Here and there, as
they turned into Shaftesbury Avenue, an immaculately turned-out young
man in evening dress passed along the baked pavements and dived into one
of the theatres. Notwithstanding the heat, there seemed to be a sort of
voluptuous atmosphere brooding over the crowded streets. The sky over
Piccadilly Circus was almost violet and the luminous, unneeded lamps had
a festive effect. The strain of a long day had passed. It was the
pleasure-seekers alone who thronged the thoroughfares. Tallente turned
and looked into the corner of the cab, to meet a soft, reflective gleam
in Nora's eyes.
"Isn't London wonderful!" she murmured dreamily. "On a night like this
it always seems to me like a great human being whose pulses you can see
heating, beating all the time."
Tallente, a person very little given to self-analysis, never really
understood the impulse which prompted him to lean towards her, the
slightly quickening sense of excitement with which he sought for the
kindness of her eyes. Suddenly he felt his fingers clasped in hers, a
warm, pleasant grasp, yet which somehow or other seemed to have the
effect of a barrier.
"You asked me a question at dinner-time," she said, "winch I did not
answer at the time. You asked me why I disliked James Miller so much."
"Don't tell me unless you like," he begged. "Don't talk about that
sort of person at all just now, unless you want to."
"I must tell you why I dislike him so much," she insisted. "It is
because he once tried to kiss me."
"Was that so terrible a sin?" he asked, a little thickly.
She smiled up at him with the candour of a child.
"To me it was," she acknowledged, "because it was just the casual caress
of a man seeking for a momentary emotion. Sometimes you have
wondered—or you have looked as though you were wondering—what my ideas
about men and women and the future and the marriage laws, and all that
sort of thing really are. Perhaps I haven't altogether made up my mind
myself, but I do know this, because it is part of myself and my life.
The one desire I have is for children—sons for the State, or daughters
who may bear sons. There isn't anything else which it is worth while
for a woman thinking about for a moment. And yet, do you know, I never
actually think of marrying. I never think about whether love is right
or wrong. I simply think that no man shall ever kiss me, or hold me in
his arms, unless it is the man who is sent to me for my desire, and when
he comes, just whoever he may be, or whenever it may be, and whether St.
George's opens its doors to us or whether we go through some tangle of
words at a registry office, or whether neither of these things happens,
I really do not mind. When he comes, he will give me what I want—that
is just all that counts. And until he comes, I shall stay just as I
have been ever since my pigtail went up and my skirts came down."
She gave his hand a final little pressure, patted and released it. He
felt, somehow or other, immeasurably grateful to her, flattered by her
confidence, curiously exalted by her hesitating words. Speech, however,
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
"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.
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
"I hope you have made yourself at home," she said. "Dear me, how untidy
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
"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
"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
"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."
"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
Miller was supposed to have the next claim, and I should think that
Miller is the one man in the world who might disunite the strongest
party on earth."
"Disunite it? I should think he would disperse it to the four corners
of the world!" she exclaimed.
The butler announced luncheon. She rose to her feet.
"I cannot tell you," he said, with a little sigh of relief, as he held
open the door for her, "how thankful I am that I happened to find you
Luncheon was a pleasant, even a luxurious meal, for the Woolhanger chef
had come from the ducal household, but it was hedged about with
restraints which fretted Tallente and rendered conversation
monosyllabic. It was served, too, in the larger dining room, where the
table, reduced to its smallest dimensions, still seemed to place a
formidable distance between himself and his hostess. A manservant stood
behind Lady Jane's chair, and the butler was in constant attendance at
the sideboard. Under such circumstances, conversation became precarious
and was confined chiefly to local topics. When they left the room for
their coffee, they found it served in the hall. Tallente, however,
"Can't we have it served in your sitting room, please?" he begged. "It
is impossible to talk to you here. There are people in the background
all the time, and you might have callers."
She hesitated for a moment but yielded the point. With the door closed
and the coffee tray between them, Tallente drew a sigh of relief.
"I hope you don't think I am a nuisance," he said bluntly, "but, after
all, I came down from London purposely to see you."
"I am not so vain as to believe that," she answered.
"It is nevertheless true and I think that you do believe it. What have
I done that you should all of a sudden build a fence around yourself?"
"That may be," she replied, smiling, "for my own protection. I can
assure you that I am not used to tête-a-tête luncheons with guests who
insist upon having their own way in everything."
"I wonder if it is a good thing for you to be so much your own
mistress," he reflected.
"You must judge by results. I always have been—at least since I
decided to lead this sort of life."
"Why have you never married?" he asked her, a little abruptly.
"We discussed that before, didn't we? I suppose because the right man
has never asked me."
"Perhaps," he ventured, "the right man isn't able to."
"Perhaps there isn't any right man at all—perhaps there never will be."
The minutes ticked away. The room, with its mingled perfumes and
pleasant warmth, its manifold associations with her wholesome and
orderly life, seemed to have laid a sort of spell upon him. She was
leaning back in her corner of the lounge, her hands hanging over the
sides, her eyes fixed upon the burning log. She herself was so
abstracted that he ventured to let his eyes dwell upon her, to trace the
outline of her slim but powerful limbs, to admire her long, delicate
feet and hands, the strong womanly face, with its kindly mouth and soft,
almost affectionate eyes. Tallente, who for the last ten years had
looked upon the other sex as non-existent, crushed into an uninteresting
negation for him owing to his wife's cold and shadowy existence, twice
within the last few months found himself pass in a different way under
the greatest spell in life. Nora Miall had provoked his curiosity, had
reawakened a dormant sense of sex without attracting it towards herself.
Jane brought to him again, from the first moment he had seen her, that
half-wistful recrudescence of the sentiment of his earlier days. He was
amazed to find how once more in her presence that sentiment had taken to
itself fire and life, how different a thing it was from those first
dreams of her, which had seemed like an echo from the period of his
poetry-reading youth. Of all women in the world she seemed to him now
the most desirable. That she was unattainable he was perfectly willing
to admit. Even then he had not the strength to deny himself the
doubtful joys of imagination with regard to her. He revelled in her
proximity because of the pleasure it gave him, heedless or reckless of
consequences. Between them, in vastly different degrees, these two
women seemed to have brought him back something of his youth.
The silence became noticeable, led him at last into a certain measure of
"Lady Jane," he ventured, "have I said anything to offend you?"
"Of course not," she answered, looking at him kindly.
"You are very silent. Are you afraid that I am going to attempt to make
love to you?"
She was startled in earnest this time. She sat up and looked at him
disapprovingly. There was a touch of the old hauteur in her tone.
"How can you be so ridiculous!" she exclaimed.
"Would it be ridiculous of me?"
"Does it occur to you," she asked, "that I am the sort of person to
encourage attentions from a man who is not free to offer them?"
"I had forgotten that," he admitted, quite frankly. "Of course, I see
the point. I have a wife, even though of her own choosing she does not
"So do I."
Jane broke into a little laugh.
"Now we are both being absurd," she declared, "and I don't want to be
and I don't want you to be. Of course, you can't look at things just as
I do. You belong to a very large world. You spend your life destroying
obstacles. All my people, you know," she went on, "look upon me as
terribly emancipated. They think my mild socialism and my refusal to
listen to such a thing as a chaperon most terribly improper, but at
heart, you know, I am still a very conventional person. I have torn
down a great many conventions, but there are some upon which I cannot
bring myself even to lay my fingers."
"Perhaps it wouldn't be you if you did," he reflected.
"And yet," he went on, "tell me, are you wholly content here? Your
life, in its way, is splendid. You live as much for the benefit of
others as for yourself. You are encouraging the right principle amongst
your yeomen and your farmers. You are setting your heel upon
feudalism—you, the daughter of a race who have always demanded it. You
live amongst these wonderful surroundings, you grow into the bigness of
them, nature becomes almost your friend. It is one of the most
dignified and beautiful lives I ever knew for a woman, and yet—are you
"I am not," she admitted frankly. "And listen," she went on, after a
moment's pause, "I will show you how much I trust you, how much I really
want you to understand me. I am not completely happy because I know
perfectly well that it is unnatural to live as I do. If I met the man I
could care for and who cared for me, I should prefer to be married." She
had commenced her speech with the faintest tinge of colour burning
underneath the wholesome sunburn of her cheeks. She had spoken boldly
enough, even though towards the end of her sentence her voice had grown
very low. When she had finished, however, it seemed as though the
memory of her words were haunting her, as though she suddenly realised
the nakedness of them. She buried her face in her hands, and he saw her
shoulders heave as though she were sobbing. He stood very close and for
the first time he touched her. He held the fingers of her hand gently
in his. "Dear Lady Jane," he begged, "don't regret even for a moment
that you have spoken naturally. If we are to be friends, to be anything
at all to one another, it is wonderful of you to tell me so sweetly what
women take such absurd pains to conceal. . . . When you look up, let
us start our friendship all over again, only before you do, listen to my
confession. If fifteen years could be rolled off my back and I were
free, it isn't political ambition I should look to for my guiding star.
I should have one far greater, far more wonderful desire." The fingers
he held were gently withdrawn. She drew herself up. Her forehead was
wrinkled questioningly. She forced a smile. "You would be very
foolish," she said, "if you tried to part with one of those fifteen
years. Every one has brought you experiences Every one has helped to
make you what you are."
"And yet—" he began.
He broke off abruptly in his speech. The hall seemed suddenly full of
voices. Jane rose to her feet at the sound of approaching footsteps.
She made the slightest possible grimace, but Tallente was oppressed with
a suspicion that the interruption was not altogether unwelcome to her.
"Some of my cousins and their friends from Minehead," she said. "I am
so sorry. I expect they have lost the hunt and come here for tea."
The room was almost instantly invaded by a company of light-hearted,
noisy young people, flushed with exercise and calling aloud for tea,
intimates all of them, calling one another by their Christian names,
speaking a jargon which sounded to Tallente like another language. He
stayed for a quarter of an hour and then took his leave. Of the
newcomers, no one seemed to have an idea who he was, no one seemed to
care in the least whether he remained or went, He was only able to
snatch a word of farewell with Jane at the door. She shook her head at
his whispered request.
"I am afraid not," she answered. "How could I? Besides, there is no
telling when this crowd will go. You are sure you won't let me send you
Tallente shook his head.
"The walk will do me good," he said. "I get lazy in town. But you are
The butler was holding open the door. Two of the girls had suddenly
taken possession of Jane. She shook her head slightly.
"Good-by," she called out. "Come and see me next time you are down."
Tallente was suddenly his old self, grave and severe. He bowed stiffly
in response to the little chorus of farewells and followed the butler
down the hall. The latter, who was something of a politician, did his
best to indicate by his manner his appreciation of Tallente's position.
"You are sure you won't allow me to order a car, sir?" he said, with his
hand upon the door. "I know her ladyship would be only too pleased.
It's a long step to the Manor, and if you'll forgive my saying so, sir,
you've a good deal on your shoulders just now."
Tallente caught a glimpse of the bleak moorland and of the distant
hills, wrapped in mist. The idea of vigorous exercise, however,
appealed to him. He shook his head.
"I'd rather walk, thanks," he said.
"It's a matter of five miles, sir."
Tallente smiled. There was something in the fresh, cold air wonderfully
alluring after the atmosphere of the room he had quitted. He turned his
coat collar up and strode down the avenue.
Tallente reached the Manor about an hour and a half later, mud-splashed,
wet and weary. Robert followed him into the study and mixed him a
whisky and soda.
"You've walked all the way back, sir?" he remarked, with a note of
protest in his tone.
"They offered me a car," Tallente admitted. "I didn't want it. I came
down for fresh air and exercise."
"Two very good things in their way, sir, but easily overdone," was the
mild rejoinder. "These hills are terrible unless you're at them all the
Tallente drank his whisky and soda almost greedily and felt the benefit
of it, although he was still weary. He had walked for five miles in the
company of ghosts and their faces had been grey. Perhaps, too, it was
the passing of his youth which brought this tiredness to his limbs.
"Robert," he confessed abruptly, "I was a fool to come down here at
"It's dreary at this time of the year unless you've time to shoot or
hunt, sir. Why not motor to Bath to-morrow? I could wire for rooms,
and I could drive you up to London the next day. Motoring's a good way
of getting the air, sir, and you won't overtire yourself."
"I'll think of it in the morning," his master promised.
"My wife has found the silver, sir," Robert announced, as he turned to
leave the room, "and I managed to get a little fish. That, with some
soup, a pheasant, and a fruit tart, we thought—"
"I shall be alone, Robert," Tallente interrupted. "There is no one
coming for dinner."
The man's disappointment was barely concealed. He sighed as he took up
"Very good, sir. Your clothes are all out. I'll turn on the hot water
in the bathroom."
Tallente threw off his rain and mud-soaked clothes, bathed, changed and
descended to the dining room just as the gong sounded. Robert was in
the act of moving the additional place from the little round dining
table which he had drawn up closer to the wood fire, but his master
"You can let those things be," he directed. "Take away the champagne,
though. I shan't want that."
Robert bowed in silent appreciation of his master's humour and began
ladling out soup at the sideboard. Tallente's lips were curled a
little, partly in self-contempt, with perhaps just a dash of self-pity.
It had come to this, then, that he must dine with fancies rather than
alone, that this tardily developed streak of sentimentality must be
ministered to or would drag him into the depths of dejection. He began
to understand the psychology of its late appearance. Stella's
artificial companionship had kept his thoughts imprisoned, fettered with
the meshes of an instinctive fidelity, and had driven him sedulously to
the solace of work and books. Now that it was removed and he was to all
practical purposes a free man, they took their own course. His life had
suddenly become a natural one, and all that was human in him responded
to the possibilities of his solitude, He had had as yet no time to
experience the relief, to appreciate his liberty, before he was face to
face with this new loneliness. To-night, he thought, as he looked at
the empty place and remembered his wistful, almost diffident invitation,
the solitude was almost unendurable. If she had only understood how
much it meant, surely she would have made some effort, would not have
been content with that half-embarrassed, half-doubtful shake of the
head! In the darkened room, with the throb of the sea and the crackling
of the lop in his ears, and only Robert's silent form for company, he
felt a sudden craving for the things of his youth, for another side of
life, the restaurants, the bright eyes of women, the whispered words of
pleasant sentiment, the perfume shaken into the atmosphere they created,
the low music in the background "I beg your pardon, sir," Robert said in
his ear, "your soup. Gertrude has taken such pains with the dinner,
sir," he added diffidently. "If I might take the liberty of suggesting
it, it would be as well if you could eat something." Tallente took up
his spoon. Then they both started, they both turned to the window. A
light had flashed into the room, a low, purring sound came from outside.
"A car, sir!" Robert exclaimed, his face full of pleasurable
anticipation. "If you'll excuse me, I'll answer the door. Might it be
the lady, after all, sir?" He hurried out. Tallente rose slowly to his
feet. He was listening intently. The thing wasn't possible, he told
himself. It wasn't possible! Then he heard a voice in the hall.
Robert threw the door open and announced in a tone of triumph—
"Lady Jane Partington, sir."
She came towards him, smiling, self-possessed, but a little
interrogative. He had a lightning-like impression of her beautiful
shoulders rising from her plain black gown, her delightfully easy walk,
the slimness and comeliness and stateliness of her.
"I know that I ought to be ashamed of myself for coming after I had told
you I couldn't," she said. "It will serve me right if you've eaten all
the dinner, but I do hope you haven't."
"I had only just sat down," he told her, as he and Robert held her
chair, "and I think that this is the kindest action you ever performed
in your life."
Robert, his face glowing with satisfaction, had become ubiquitous. She
had scarcely subsided into her chair before he was offering her a
cocktail on a silver tray, serving Tallente with his forgotten glass, at
the sideboard ladling out soup, out of the room and in again, bringing
back the rejected bottle of champagne.
"You will never believe that I am a sane person again," she laughed.
"After you had gone, and all those foolish children had departed, I felt
it was quite impossible to sit down and dine alone. I wanted so much to
come and I realised how ridiculous it was of me not to have accepted at
once. At the last moment I couldn't bear it any longer, so I rushed
into the first gown I could find, ordered out my little coupé and here I
"The most welcome guest who ever came to a lonely man," he assured her.
"A moment ago, Robert was complaining because I was sending my soup
away. Now I shall show him what Devon air can do."
The champagne was excellent, and the dinner over which Gertrude had
taken so much care was after all thoroughly appreciated. Tallente,
suddenly and unexpectedly light-hearted, felt a keen desire to entertain
his welcome guest, and remembered his former successes as a raconteur.
They pushed politics and all personal matters far away. He dug up
reminiscences of his class in foreign capitals, when he had first
entered the Diplomatic Service, betrayed his intimate knowledge of the
Florence which they both loved, of Paris, where she had studied and
which he had seen under so many aspects,—Paris, the home of beauty and
fashion before the war; torn with anguish and horror during its earlier
stages; grim, steadfast and sombre in the clays of Verdun; wildly, madly
exultant when wreathed and decorated with victory. There were so many
things to talk about for two people of agile brains come together late
in life. They had moved into the study and Lady Jane was sealed in his
favourite easy-chair, sipping her coffee and some wonderful green
chartreuse, before a single personal note had crept into the flow of
"It can't be that I am in Devonshire," she said. "I never realised how
much like a succession of pictures conversation can be. You seem to
remind me so much of things which I have kept locked away just because
I have had no one to share them with."
"You are in Devonshire all right," he answered, smiling. "You will
realise it when you turn out of my avenue and face the hills. You see,
you've dropped down from the fairyland of 'up over' to the nesting place
of the owls and the gulls."
"Nine hundred feet," she murmured. "Thank heavens for my forty
horsepower engine! I want to see the sea break against your rocks," she
went on, as she took the cigarette which he passed her. "There used to
be a little path through your plantation to a place where you look
sheer down. Don't you remember, you took me there the first time I
came to see you, in August, and I have never forgotten it."
He rang the bell for her coat. The night, though windy and dark, was
warm. Stars shone out from unexpected places, pencil-like streaks of
inky-black clouds stretched menacingly across the sky. The wind came
down from the moors above with a dull boom which seemed echoed by the
waves beating against the giant rocks. The beads of the bare trees
among which they passed were bent this way and that, and the few
remaining leaves rustled in vain resistance, or, yielding to the
irresistible gusts, sailed for a moment towards the skies, to be dashed
down into the ever-growing carpet. The path was narrow and they walked
in single file, but at the bend he drew level with her, walking on the
seaward side and guiding her with his fingers upon her arm. Presently
they reached the little circular space where rustic seats had been
placed, and leaned over a grey stone wall.
There was nothing of the midsummer charm about the scene to-night.
Sheer below them the sea, driven by tide and wind, rushed upon the huge
masses of rock or beat direct upon the cave-indented cliffs. The spray
leapt high into the air, to be caught up by the wind in whirlpools,
little ghostly flecks, luminous one moment and gone forever the next.
Far away across the pitchy waters they could see at regular intervals a
line of white where the breakers came rushing in, here and there the
agitated lights of passing steamers; opposite, the twin flares on the
Welsh coast, and every sixty seconds the swinging white illumination
from the Lynmouth Lighthouse, shining up from behind the headland. Jane
slipped one hand through his arm and stood there, breathless,
rapturously watchful. "This is wonderful," she murmured. "It is the
one thing we have always lacked at Woolhanger. We get the booming of
the wind—wonderful it is, too, like the hollow thunder of guns or the
quick passing of an underground army—but we miss this. I feel,
somehow, as though I knew now why it tears past us, uprooting the very
trees that stand in its way. It rushes to the sea. What a meeting!"
Her hand tightened upon his arm as a great wave broke direct upon the
cliff below and a torrent of wind, rushing through the trees and
downwards, caught the spray and scattered it around them and high over
"We humans," he whispered, "are taught our lesson."
"Do we need it?" she asked, with sudden fierceness. "Do you believe
that because some mysterious power imposes restraint upon us, the
passion isn't there all the while?"
She was suddenly in his arms, the warm wind shrieking about them, the
darkness thick and soft as a mantle. Only he saw the anguished
happiness in her eyes as they closed beneath his kisses.
"One moment out of life," she faltered, "one moment!"
Another great wave shook the ground beneath them, but she had drawn
away. She struggled for breath. Then once more her hand was thrust
through his arm. He knew so well that his hour was over and he
"Back, please," she whispered, "back through the plantation—quietly."
An almost supernatural instinct divined and acceded to her desire for
silence. So they walked slowly back towards the long, low house whose
faint lights flickered through the trees. She leaned a little upon him,
the hand which she had passed through his arm was clasped in his. Only
the wind spoke. When at last they were en the terraces she drew a long
"Dear friend," she said softly, "see how I trust you. I leave in your
keeping the most precious few minutes of my life."
"This is to be the end, then?" he faltered.
"It is not we who have decided that," she answered. "It is just what
must be. You go to a very difficult life, a very splendid one. I have
my smaller task. Don't unfit me for it. We will each do our best."
Her servant was waiting by the car. His figure loomed up through the
darkness. "You will come into the house for a few minutes?" he begged
hoarsely. She shook her head.
"Why? Our farewells have been spoken. I leave you—so."
The man had disappeared behind the bonnet of the car. She grasped his
hand with both of hers and brushed it lightly with her lips. Then she
gilded away. A moment later he was listening to her polite speeches as
she leaned out of the coupé. "My dinner was too wonderful," she said.
"Do make my compliments to that dear Robert and his wife. Good luck to
you, and don't rob us poor landowners of every penny we possess in
The car was gone in the midst of his vague little response. He watched
the lights go flashing up the hillside, crawling around the hairpin
corners, up until it seemed that they had reached the black clouds and
were climbing into the heavens. Then he turned back into the house.
The world was still a place for dreams.
Tallente sat in the morning train, on his way to town, and on the other
side of the bare ridge at which he gazed so earnestly Lady Jane and
Segerson had brought their horses to a standstill half way along a rude
cart track which led up to a farmhouse tucked away in the valley.
"This is where James Crockford's land commences," Segerson remarked,
riding up to his companion's side. "Look around you. I think you will
admit that I have not exaggerated."
She frowned thoughtfully. On every side were evidences of poor farming
and neglect. The untrimmed hedges had been broken down in many places
by cattle. A plough which seemed as though it had been embedded there
for ages, stood in the middle of a half-ploughed field. Several tracts
of land which seemed prepared for winter sowing were covered with
stones. The farmhouse yard, into which they presently passed, was dirty
and untidy. Segerson leaned down and knocked on the door with his whip.
After a short delay, a slatternly-looking woman, with tousled fair hair,
answered the summons.
"Mr. Crockford in?" Segerson asked.
"You'll find him in the living room," the woman answered curtly, with a
stare at Lady Jane. "Here's himself."
She retreated into the background. A man with flushed face, without
collar or tie, clad in trousers and shirt only, had stepped out of the
parlour. He stared at his visitors in embarrassment.
"I came over to have a word or two with you on business, Mr.
Crockford," Jane said coldly. "I rather expected to find you on the
The man mumbled something and threw open the door of the sitting room.
"Won't you come in?" he invited. "There's just Mr. Pettigrew here—the
vet from Barnstaple. He's come over to look at one of my cows."
Mr. Pettigrew, also flushed, rose to his feet. Jane acknowledged his
greeting and glanced around the room. It was untidy, dirty and close,
smelling strongly of tobacco and beer. On the table was a bottle of
whisky, half empty, and two glasses.
"There is really no reason why I should disturb you," Jane said, turning
back upon the threshold. "A letter from Mr. Segerson will do."
Crockford, however, had pulled himself together. A premonition of his
impending fate had already produced a certain sullenness.
"Pettigrew," he directed, "you get out and have another look at the cow.
If you've any business word to say to me, your ladyship, I'm here."
Jane looked once more around the squalid room, watched the unsteady
figure of Pettigrew departing and looked back at her tenant.
"Your lease is up on March the twenty-fifth, Crockford," she reminded
him. "I have come to tell you that I shall not be prepared to renew
The man simply blinked at her. His fuddled brain was not equal to
grappling with such a catastrophe.
"Your farm is favourably situated," she continued, "and, although small,
has great possibilities. I find you are dropping behind your neighbours
and your crops are poorer each season. Have you saved any money,
"Saved any money," the man blustered, "with shepherd's wages alone at
two pounds a week, and a week's rain starting in the day I began
hay-making. Why, my barley—"
"You started your hay-making ten days too late," Segerson interrupted
sternly. "You had plenty of warning. And as for your barley, you sold
it in the King's Arms at Barnstaple, when you'd had too much to drink,
at thirty per cent, below its value."
Jane turned towards the door.
"I need not stay any longer," she said. "I wanted to look at your farm
for myself, Mr. Crockford, and I thought it only right that you should
have early notice of my intention to ask you to vacate the place."
The cold truth was finding its way into the man's consciousness. It had
a wonderfully sobering effect.
"Look here, ma'am," he demanded, "is it true that you lent Farmer
Holroyd four hundred pounds to buy his own farm and the Crocombe
brothers two hundred each?"
"Quite true," Jane replied coldly. "What of it?"
"What of it?" the man repeated. "You lend them youngsters money and
then you come to me, a man who's been on this land for twenty-two years,
and you've nothing to say but 'get out!' Where am I to find another farm
at my time of life? Just answer me that, will you?"
"It is not my concern," Jane declared. "I only know that I decline to
have any tenants on my property who do not do justice to the land. When
I see that they do justice to it, then it is my wish that they should
possess it. It is true that I have lent money to some of the farmers
round here, but the greater part of what they have put down for the
purchase of their holdings is savings,—money they had saved and earned
by working early and late, by careful farming and husbandry, by putting
money in the bank every quarter. You've had the same opportunity. You
have preferred to waste your time and waste your money. You've had more
than one warning you know, Crockford."
"Aye, more than a dozen," Segerson muttered.
The man looked at them both and there was a dull hate gathering in his
"It's easy to talk about saving money and working hard, you that have
got everything you want in life and no work to do," he protested "It's
enough to make a man turn Socialist to listen to un."
"Mr. Crockford," Jane said, "I am a Socialist and if you take the
trouble to understand even the rudiments of socialism, you will learn
that the drones have as small a part in that scheme of life as in any
other. You have a right to what you produce. It is one of the
pleasures of my life to help the deserving to enjoy what they produce.
It is also one of the duties, when I find a non-productive person
filling a position to which his daily life and character do not entitle
him, to pull him up like a weed. That is my idea of socialism, Mr.
Crockford. You will leave on March 25th."
They rode homeward into a gathering storm. A mass of black clouds was
rolling up from the north, and an unexpected wind came bellowing down
the coombs, bending the stunted oaks and dark pines and filling the air
with sonorous but ominous music. The hills around soon became
invisible, blotted out by fragments of the gathering mists. The cold
sleet stung their faces. Out on the moors was no sound but time
tinkling of distant sheep bells.
"There's snow coming," Segerson muttered, as he turned up his coat
"It won't do any harm," she answered. "The earth lies warm under it."
The lights of Parracombe, precipitous and unexpected, were like flecks
in the sky, wiped out by a sudden driving storm of sleet. A little
while later they cantered up the avenue to Woolhanger and Jane slipped
from her horse with a little sigh of relief.
"You'd better stay and have some tea, Mr. Segerson," she invited.
"John will take your horse and give him a rubdown."
She changed her habit and, forgetting her guest, indulged in the luxury
of a hot bath. She descended some time later to find him sitting in
front of the tea tray in the hall. A more than usually gracious smile
soon drove the frown from his forehead.
"I really am frightfully sorry," she apologised, as she handed him his
tea. "I had no idea I was so wet. You'll have rather a bad ride home."
"Oh, I'm used to it," he answered. "I'm afraid they'll lose a good many
sheep on the higher farms, though, if the storm turns out as bad as it
threatens. Hear that!"
A tornado of wind seemed to shake the ground beneath their feet. Jane
"I suppose," she reflected, "that man Crockford thought I was very cruel
"I will tell you Crockford's point of view," Segerson replied. "He
doesn't exactly understand what your aims are, and wherever he goes he
hears nothing but praise of the way you have treated your tenants and
the way you have tried to turn them into small landowners. He isn't
intelligent enough to realise that there is a principle behind all this.
He has simply come to feel that he has a lenient landlord and that he
has only to sit still and the plums will drop into his mouth, too.
Crockford is one of the weak spots in your system, Lady Jane. There is
no place for him or his kind in a self-supporting world."
"Then I am afraid he must go down," she said. "He simply stands in the
way of better men."
"One reads a good deal of Mr. Tallente, nowadays," Segerson remarked,
changing the conversation a little abruptly.
Jane leaned over and stroked the head of a dog which had come to lie at
"He seems to be making a good deal of stir," she observed.
The young man frowned.
"You know I am not unsympathetic with your views, Lady Jane," he said, a
little awkwardly, "but I don't mind admitting that if I had a big stake
in the country I should be afraid of Tallente. No one seems to be able
to pin him down to a definite programme and yet day by day his influence
grows. The Labour Party is disintegrated. The best of all its factions
are joining the Democrats. He is practically leader of the Opposition
Party to-day and I don't see how they are going to stop his being Prime
Minister whenever he chooses."
"Don't you think he'll make a good Prime Minister?" Jane asked.
"No, I don't," was the curt answer. "He is too dark a horse for my
"I expect Mr. Tallente will be ready with his programme when the time
comes," she observed. "He is a people's man, of course, and his
proposals will sound pretty terrible to a good many of the old school.
Still, something of the sort has to come."
The butler brought in the postbag while they talked. Segerson, as he
rose to depart, glanced with curiosity at half a dozen orange-coloured
wrappers which were among the rest of the letters.
"Fancy your subscribing to a press-cutting agency, Lady Jane!" he
exclaimed. "You haven't been writing a novel under a pseudonym, have
She laughed as she gathered up her correspondence in her hand.
"Don't pry into my secrets," she enjoined. "We may meet in Barnstaple
to-morrow. If the weather clears, I want to go in and see those cattle
The young man took his reluctant departure. Jane crossed the hall,
entered her own little sanctum, drew the lamp to the edge of the table
and sank into her easy-chair with a little sigh of relief. All the rest
of her correspondence she threw to one side. The orange-coloured
wrappers she tore off, one by one. As she read, her face softened and
her eyes grew very bright. The first cutting was a report of Tallente's
last speech in the House, a clever and forceful attack upon the
Government's policy of compromise in the matter of recent strikes. The
next was a speech at the Holborn Town Hall, on workmen's dwellings,
another a thoughtful appreciation of him from the pages of a great
review. There was also a eulogy from an American journal and a gloomy
attack upon him in the chief Whig organ. When she had finished the
pile, she sat for some time gazing at the burning logs. The little
epitome of his daily life—there were records there even of many of his
social engagements-seemed to carry her into another atmosphere, an
atmosphere far removed from this lonely spot upon the moors. She seemed
to catch from those printed lines some faint, reflective thrill of the
more vital world of strife in which he was living. For a moment the
roar of London was in her ears. She saw the lighted thoroughfares, the
crowded pavements, the faces of the men and women, all a little strained
and eager, so different from the placid immobility of the world in which
she lived. She rose to her feet and moved restlessly about the room.
Presently she lifted the curtain and looked out. There was a pause in
the storm and a great mass of black clouds had just been driven past the
face of the watery moon. Even the wind seemed to be holding its breath,
but so far as she could see, moors and hillsides were wrapped in one
unending mantle of snow. There was no visible sign of any human
habitation, no sound from any of the birds or animals who were cowering
in their shelters, not even a sheep hell or the barking of a dog to
break the profound silence. She dropped the curtain and turned back to
her chair. Her feet were leaden and her heart was heavy. The struggle
of the day was at an end. Memory was asserting itself. She felt the
flush in her cheek, the quickening heat of her heart, the thrill of her
pulses as she lived again through those few wild minutes. There was no
longer any escape from the wild, confusing truth. The thing which she
had dreaded had come.
The most popular hostess in London was a little thrilled at the arrival
of the moment for which she had planned so carefully. She laid her hand
on Tallente's arm and led him towards a comparatively secluded corner of
the winter garden which made her own house famous. "I must apologise,
Mrs. Van Fosdyke," he said, "for my late appearance. I travelled up
from Devonshire this afternoon and found snow all the way. We were
nearly two hours late."
"It is all the more kind of you to have turned out at all, then," she
told him warmly. "I don't mind telling you that I should have been
terribly disappointed if you had failed me. It has been my one desire
for months to have you three—the Prime Minister, Lethbridge and
you—under my roof at the same time."
"You find politics interesting over here?" Tallente asked, a little
She flashed a quick glance at him.
"Why, I find them absolutely fascinating," she declared. "The whole
thing is so incomprehensible. Just look at to-night. Half of Debrett
is represented here, practically the whole of the diplomats, and yet,
except yourself, not a single member of the political party who we are
told will be ruling this country within a few months. The very anomaly
of it is so fascinating."
"There is no necessary kinship between Society and politics," Tallente
reminded her. "Your own country, for instance."
Mrs. Van Fosdyke, who was an American, shrugged her shoulders.
"My own country scarcely counts," she protested. "After all, we came
into being as a republic, and our aristocracy is only a spurious
conglomeration of people who are too rich to need to work. But many of
these people whom you see here to-night still possess feudal rights,
vast estates, great names, and yet over their heads there is coming this
Government, in which they will be wholly unrepresented. What are you
going to do with the aristocracy, Mr. Tallente?"
"Encourage them to work," he answered, smiling.
"But they don't know how."
"They must learn. No man has a right to his place upon the earth unless
he is a productive human being. There is no room in the world which we
are trying to create for the parasite pure and simple."
"You are a very inflexible person, Mr. Tallente."
"There is no place in politics for the wobbler."
"Do you know," she went on, glancing away for a moment, "that my rooms
are filled with people who fear you. The Labour Party, as it was
understood here five or six years ago, never inspired that feeling.
There was something of the tub-thumper about every one of them. I think
it is your repression, Mr. Tallente, which terrifies them. You don't
say what you are going to do. Your programme is still a secret and yet
every day your majority grows. Only an hour ago the Prime Minister told
me that he couldn't carry on if you threw down the gage in earnest."
Tallente remained bland, but became a little vague.
"I see Foulds amongst your guests," he observed. "Have you seen his
statue of Perseus and Andromeda!'"
"I have, but I am not going to discuss it. Of course, I accept the
hint, but as a matter of fact I am a person to be trusted. I ask for no
secrets. I have no position in this country. Even my sympathies are at
present wobbling. I am simply a little thrilled to have you here,
because the Prime Minister is within a few yards of us and I know that
before many weeks are past the great struggle will come between you and
him as to who shall guide the destinies of this country."
"You forget, Mrs. Van Fosdyke," he objected, "that I am not even the
leader of my party. Stephen Dartrey is our chief."
She shook her head.
"Dartrey is a brilliant person," she admitted, "but we all know that he
is not a practical politician. The battle is between you and Horlock."
Tallente was watching a woman go by, a woman in black and silver, whose
walk reminded him of Jane. His hostess followed his eyes.
"You are one of Alice Mountgarron's admirers?" she enquired.
"I don't even know her," he replied. "She reminded me of some one for a
"She is one of the Duchess of Barminster's daughters," his companion
told him. "She married Mountgarron last year. Her sister, Lady Jane,
is rather inclined towards your political outlook. She lives in
Devonshire and tries to do good."
His eyes followed the woman in black and silver until she had passed out
of sight. The family likeness was there, appealing to him curiously,
tugging at his heartstrings. His artificial surroundings slipped easily
away. He was back on the moors, he felt a sniff of the strong wind, the
wholesome exaltation of the empty places. A more wonderful memory still
was seeping in upon him. His companion intervened chillingly.
"One never sees your wife, nowadays, Mr. Tallente."
"My wife is in America." he answered mechanically. "She has gone there
to stay with some relatives."
"She is interested in politics?"
"Not in the least."
Mrs. Van Fosdyke welcomed a newcomer with a gracious little smile and
Tallente rose to his feet. Horlock had left the group in the centre of
the room and was making his way towards them.
"At least we can talk here," he said, shaking hands with Tallente,
"without any suggestion of a conspiracy. The old gang, you know," he
went on, addressing his hostess, "simply close around me when I try to
have a word with Tallente. They are afraid of some marvellous
combination which is going to shut them out."
"Lethbridge is the only one of them here to-night," She observed, "and
he is probably in one of the rooms where they are serving things. Now I
must go back to my guests. If I see him, I'll head him off."
She strolled away. The Prime Minister sank back upon a couch. His air
of well-bred content with himself and life fell away from him the moment
his hostess was out of sight.
"Tallente," he said, "I suppose you mean to break us?"
"I thought we'd been rather friendly," was the quiet reply. "We've been
letting you have your own way for nearly a month."
"That is simply because we are on work which we are tackling practically
in the fashion you dictated," Horlock pointed out. "When we have
finished this Irish business, what are you going to do?"
"I am not the leader of the party," Tallente reminded him.
"From a parliamentary point of view you are," was the impatient protest.
"Dartrey is a dreamer. He might even have dreamed away his
opportunities if you hadn't come along. Miller would never have handled
the House as you have. Miller was made to create factions. You were
made to coalesce, to smooth over difficulties, to bring men of opposite
points of view into the same camp. You are a genius at it, Tallente.
Six months ago I was only afraid of the Democrats. Now I dread them.
Shall I tell you what it is that worries me most?"
"If you think it wise."
"Your absence of programme. Why don't you say what you want to do—give
us some idea of how far you are going to carry your tenets? Are we to
have the anarchy of Bolshevists or the socialism of Marx,—a red flag
republic or a classical dictatorship?"
"We are not out for anarchy, at all events," Tallente assured him, "nor
for revolutions in the ordinary sense of the word."
"You mean to upset the Constitution?"
"Speaking officially, I do not know. Speaking to you as a fellow
politician, I should say that sooner or later some changes are
"You'll never get away from party government."
"Perhaps not, but I dare say we can find machinery to prevent the house
of Commons being used for a debating society."
Horlock, whose sense of humour had never been entirely crushed by the
exigencies of political leadership, suddenly grinned.
"The old gang will commit suicide," he declared. "If they aren't
allowed to spout, they'll either wither or die. Old man Lethbridge's
monthly attacks of high-minded patriotism are the only things that keep
"I don't fancy," Tallente remarked, "that we shall abandon any of our
principles for the sake of keeping Lethbridge alive."
"What the mischief are your principles?"
"No doubt Dartrey would enlighten you, if you chose to go to him," was
the indifferent reply. "Within the course of the next few months we
shall launch our thunderbolt. You will know then what we claim for the
"Hang the people!" Horlock exclaimed. "I've legislated for them myself
until I'm sick of it. They're never grateful."
"Perhaps you confine yourself too much to one class," Tallente observed
drily. "As a rule, the less intelligent the voter, the more easily he
is caught by flashy legislation."
"The operative pure and simple," Horlock announced, "has no political
outlook. He'll never see beyond his trades union. You'll never found a
great national party with his aid."
His companion smiled.
"Then we shall fail and you will continue to be Prime Minister."
Mrs. Van Fosdyke came back to them, on the arm of a foreign diplomat.
She leaned over to Horlock and whispered:
"Lethbridge has heard that you two are here together and he is on your
track. Better separate."
She passed on. The two men strolled away.
"Have you any personal feeling against me, Tallente?" Horlock asked.
"None whatever," his companion assured him. "You did me the best turn
in your life when you left me stranded after Hellesfield."
"Lethbridge almost insisted, he looked upon you as a firebrand. He said
there would be no repose about a Cabinet with you in it."
"Well, it's turned out for the best," Tallente remarked drily. "Au
On his way back to the reception rooms, an acquaintance tapped him on
"One moment, Tallente. Lady Alice Mountgarron has asked me to present
Tallente bowed before the woman who stood looking at him pleasantly, but
a little curiously. She held out her hand.
"I seem to have heard so much of you from my sister Jane," she said.
"You are neighbours in Devonshire, aren't you?"
"Neighbours from a Devon man's point of view," he answered. "I live
half-way down a precipice, and she five miles away, at the back of a
Stygian moor, and incidentally a thousand feet above me."
"You seem to have surmounted such geographical obstacles."
"Your sister's friendship is worth greater efforts," Tallente replied.
Lady Alice smiled.
"I wish that some of you could persuade her to come to town
occasionally," she said. "Jane is a perfect dear, of course, and I know
she does a great deal of good down there, but I can't help thinking
sometimes that she is a little wasted. Life must now and then be dreary
for her." Tallente seemed for a moment to be looking through the walls
of the room. "We are all made differently. Lady Jane is very
self-reliant and Devonshire is one of those counties which have a
curiously strong local hold."
"But when her moors and her farms are under snow, and Woolhanger is
wreathed in mists, and one hears nothing except the moaning of animals
in distress, what about the local attraction then?"
"You speak feelingly," Tallente observed, smiling. "I spent a fortnight
with Jane last winter," she explains. "I had some idea of hunting.
Never again! Only I miss Jane. She is such a dear and I don't see half
enough of her."
"I saw her yesterday," Tallente said reminiscently. "This morning she
told me she was going to ride out to inspect for herself the farm of the
one black sheep amongst her tenants. I looked out towards Woolhanger as
I came up in the train. It seemed like a miasma of driven snow and
"Every one to his tastes," Lady Alice observed, as she turned away with
a friendly little nod. "I have just an idea, however, that this
morning's excursion was a little too much even for Jane."
"What do you mean?" Tallente asked eagerly. Lady Alice looked at him
over the top of her fan. She was a woman of instinct. "I had a
telegram from her just before I came out," she said. "There wasn't much
in it, but it gave me an idea that after all perhaps she is thinking of
a short visit to town. Come and see me, Mr. Tallente, won't you? I
live in Mount Street—Number 17. My husband used to play cricket with
you, I think."
She passed on and Tallente stood looking after her for a moment, a
little dazed. A friend came up and took him by the arm.
"Unprotected and alone in the gilded halls of the enemy!" the newcomer
exclaimed. "Come and have a drink. By the by, you look as though you'd
had good news."
"I have," Tallente assented, smiling.
"Then we'll drink to it—Mum'll. Not bad stuff. This way."
Tallente, for the first time in his life, was dining a few evenings
later at Dartrey's house in Chelsea, and he looked forward with some
curiosity to this opportunity of studying his chief under different
auspices. Dartrey, notwithstanding the fact that he was a miracle of
punctuality and devotion to duty, both at the offices in Parliament
Street and at the House, seemed to have the gift of fading absolutely
out of sight from the ken of even his closest friends when the task of
the day was accomplished. He excused himself always, courteously but
finally, from accepting anything whatever in the way of social
entertainment, he belonged to no clubs, and, if pressed, he frankly
confessed a predilection which amounted almost to passion for solitude
during those hours not actually devoted to official duties. The
invitation to dinner, therefore, was received by Tallente with some
surprise. He had grown into the habit of looking upon Dartrey as a man
who had no real existence outside the routine of their daily work. He
welcomed with avidity, therefore, this opportunity of understanding a
little more thoroughly Dartrey's pleasant but elusive personality.
The house itself, situated in a Chelsea square of some repute, was small
and unostentatious, but was painted a spotless white and possessed, even
from the outside, an air of quiet and unassuming elegance. A trim
maid-servant opened the door and ushered him into a drawing-room of grey
and silver, with a little faded blue in the silks of the French chairs.
There were a few fine-point etchings upon the walls, a small grand piano
in a corner, and very little furniture, although the little there was
was French of the best period. There were no flowers and the atmosphere
would have been chilly, but for the brightly burning fire. Tallente was
scarcely surprised when Dartrey's entrance alone indicated the fact
that, as was generally supposed, he was free from family ties.
"I am a little early, I am afraid," Tallente remarked, as they shook
"Admirably punctual," the other replied. "I shall make no apologies to
you for my small party. I have asked only Miss Miall and Miller to meet
you—just the trio of us who came to lure you out of your Devonshire
"Miller?" Tallente repeated, with instant comprehension.
"Yes! I was thinking, only the other day, that you scarcely see enough
"I see all that I want to," was Tallente's candid comment.
Dartrey laid his hand upon his guest's shoulder. In his sombre dinner
garb, with low, turned-down collar and flowing black tie, his grey-black
beard cut to a point, his high forehead, his straightly brushed-back
hair, which still betrayed its tendency to natural curls, he looked a
great deal more like an artist of the dreamy and aesthetic type than a
man who had elaborated a new system of life and government.
"It is because of the feeling behind those words, Tallente," he said,
"that I have asked you to meet him here to-night. Miller has his
objectionable points, but he possesses still a great hold upon certain
types of the working man. I feel that you should appreciate that a
little more thoroughly. The politician, as you should know better than
I, has no personal feelings."
"The politician is left with very few luxuries," Tallente replied, with
a certain grimness.
Nora was announced, brilliant and gracious in a new dinner gown which
she frankly confessed had ruined her, and close behind her Miller, a
little ungainly in his overlong dress coat and badly arranged white tie.
It struck Tallente that he was aware of the object of the meeting and
his manner, obviously intended to be ingratiating, had still a touch of
They went into dinner, a few minutes later, and their host's tact in
including Nora in the party was at once apparent. She talked brightly
of the small happenings of their day-by-day political life and bridged
over the moments of awkwardness before general conversation assumed its
normal swing. Dartrey encouraged Miller to talk and they all listened
while he spoke of the mammoth trades unions of the north, where his hold
upon the people was greatest. He spoke still bitterly of the war, from
the moral effect of which, he argued, the working man had never wholly
recovered. Tallente listened a little grimly.
"The fervour of self-sacrifice and so-called patriotism which some of
the proletariat undoubtedly felt at the outbreak of the war," Miller
argued, "was only an incidental, a purely passing sensation compared to
the idle and greedy inertia which followed it. The war lost," he went
on, "might have acted as a lash upon the torpor of many of these men.
Won, it created a wave of immorality and extravagance from which they
had never recovered. They spent more than they had and they earned more
than they were worth. That is to say, they lived an unnatural life."
"It is fortunate, then," Tallente remarked, "that the new generation is
"They, too, carry the taint," Miller insisted. Tallente looked
thoughtfully across towards his host.
"It seems to me that this is a little disheartening," he said. "It is
exactly what one might have expected from Horlock or even Lethbridge.
Miller, who is nearer to the proletariat than any of us, would have us
believe that the people who should be the bulwark of the State are not
fit for their position."
"I fancy," Dartrey said soothingly, "that Miller was talking more as a
philosopher than a practical man."
"I speak according to my experience," the latter insisted, a little
"Amongst your own constituents?" Tallente asked, with a faint smile,
reminiscent of a recent unexpected defeat of one of Miller's partisans
in a large constituency.
"Amongst them and others," was the somewhat acid reply. "Sands lost his
seat at Tenchester through the apathy of the very class for whom we
"Tenchester is a wonderful place," Nora intervened. "I went down there
lately to study certain phases of women's labour. Their factories are
models and I found all the people with whom I came in contact
exceptionally keen and well-informed."
Miller gnawed his moustache for a moment.
"Then I was probably unpopular there," he said. "I have to tell the
truth. Sometimes people do not like it."
The dinner was simply but daintily served. There were wines of
well-known vintages and as the meal progressed Dartrey unbent. Eating
scarcely anything and drinking less, the purely intellectual stimulus of
conversation seemed to unloose his tongue and give to his pronouncements
a more pungent tone. Naturally, politics remained the subject of
discussion and Dartrey disclosed a little the reason for the meeting
which he had arranged.
"The craft of politics," he pointed out, "makes but one inexorable
demand upon her followers—the demand for unity. The amazing thing is
that this is not generally realised. It seems the fashion, nowadays, to
dissent from everything, to cultivate the ego in its narrowest sense
rather than to try and reach out and grasp the hands of those around.
The fault, I think, is in an over-developed theatrical sense, the desire
which so many clever men have for individual notoriety. We Democrats
have prospered because we have been free from it. We have been able to
sink our individual prejudices in our cause. That is because our cause
has been great enough. We aim so high, we see so clearly, that it is
rare indeed to find amongst us those individual differences which have
been the ruin of every political party up to to-day. We have no Brown
who will not serve with Smith, no Robinson who declines to be associated
with Jones. We forget the small things which are repugnant to us in a
fellowman, because of the great things which bind us together."
"To a certain extent, yes," Tallente agreed, with some reserve in his
tone, "yet we are all human. There are some prejudices which no man may
conquer. If he pretends he does, he only lives in an atmosphere of
falsehood. The strong man loves or hates."
They took their coffee in their host's very fascinating study. There
was little room here for decoration. The walls were lined with books,
there were a few choice bronzes here and there, a statue of wonderful
beauty upon the writing table, and a figure of Justice leaning with
outstretched arms over the world, presented to Dartrey by a great French
artist. For the rest, there were comfortable chairs, an ample fire, and
a round table on which were set out coffee and liqueurs of many sorts.
"You will find that I am not altogether an anchorite," Dartrey observed,
as they settled into their places.
"I am a lover of old brandy. The '68 I recommend especially, Tallente,
and bring your chair round to the fire. There are cigars and cigarettes
at your elbow. Miller, I think I know your taste. Help yourself, won't
Miller drank crème de menthe and smoked homemade Virginia cigarettes.
Tallente watched him and sighed. Then, suddenly conscious of his host's
critical scrutiny, he felt an impulse of shame, felt that his contempt
for the man had in it something almost snobbish. He leaned forward and
did his best. Miller had been a school-board teacher, an exhibitioner
at college, and was possessed of a singular though limited intelligence.
He could deal adequately with any one problem presented by itself and
affected only by local conditions, yet the more Tallente talked with
him, the more he realised his lack of breadth, his curious weakness of
judgment when called upon to consider questions dependent upon varying
considerations. As to the right or wrong wording of a clause in the
Factory Amendment Act, he could be lucid, explanatory and convincing; as
to the justice of the same clause when compared with other forms of
legislation, he was vague and unconvincing, didactic and prejudiced. If
Dartrey's object had been to bring these two men into closer
understanding of each other, he was certainly succeeding. It is
doubtful, however, whether the understanding progressed entirely in the
fashion he had desired. Nora, curled up in an easy-chair, affecting to
be sleepy, but still listening earnestly, felt at last that intervention
was necessary. The self-revelation of Miller under Tallente's surgical
questioning was beginning to disturb even their host.
"I am being neglected," she complained. "If no one talks to me, I shall
Tallente rose at once and sat on the lounge by her side. Dartrey stood
on the hearth rug and plunged into an ingenious effort to reconcile
various points of difference which had arisen between his two guests.
Tallente all the time was politely acquiescent, Miller a little sullen.
Like all men with brains acute enough to deal logically with a
procession of single problems, he resented because he failed altogether
to understand that a wider field of circumstances could possibly alter
Tallente walked home with Nora. They chose the longer way, by the
"This is the Cockney's antithesis to the moonlight and hills of you
country folk," Nora observed, as she pointed to the yellow lights
gashing across the black water.
Tallente drew a long breath of content.
"It's good to be here, anyway. I am glad to be out of that house," he
"I'm afraid," she sighed, "that our dear host's party was a failure.
You and Miller were born in different camps of life. It doesn't seem to
me that anything will ever bring you together."
"For this reason," Tallente explained eagerly. "Miller's outlook is
narrow and egotistical. He may be a shrewd politician, but there isn't
a grain of statesmanship in him. He might make an excellent chairman of
a parish council. As a Cabinet Minister he would be impossible."
"He will demand office, I am afraid," Nora remarked.
Tallente took off his hat. He was watching the lights from the two
great hotels, the red fires from the funnel of a little tug, Mack and
mysterious in the windy darkness.
"I am sick of politics," he declared suddenly. "We are a parcel of
fools. Our feet move day and night to the solemn music."
"You, of all men," she protested, "to be talking like this!"
"I mean it," he insisted, a little doggedly. "I have spent too many of
my years on the treadmill. A man was born to be either an egoist and
parcel out the earth according to his tastes, or to develop like Dartrey
into a dreamer.—Curse you!" he added, suddenly shaking his fist at the
tall towers of the Houses of Parliament. "You're like an infernal
boarding-school, with your detentions and impositions and castigations.
There must be something beyond."
"A Cabinet Minister—" she began.
"The sixth form," he interrupted. "There's just one aspiration of life
to be granted under that roof and to win it you are asked to stifle all
the rest. It isn't worth it."
"It's the greatest game at which men can play," she declared.
"And also the narrowest because it is the most absorbing," he answered.
"We have our triumphs there and they end in a chuckle. Don't you love
sunshine in winter, strange cities, pictures, pictures of another age,
pictures which take your thoughts back into another world, architecture
that is not utilitarian, the faces of human beings on whom the strain of
life has never fallen? And women—women whose eyes will laugh into
yours, who haven't a single view in life, who don't care a fig about
improving their race, who want just love, to give and to take?"
She gazed at him in astonishment, a little carried away, her eyes soft,
her lips parted.
"But you have turned pagan!" she cried.
"An instant's revolt against the methodism of life," he replied, his
feet once more upon the earth. "But the feeling's there, all the same,"
he went on doggedly. "I want to leave school. I have been there so
long. It seems to me my holiday is overdue."
She passed her arm through his. She was a very clever and a very
"That comes of your having ignored us," she murmured.
"It isn't my fault if I have," he reminded her.
"In a sense it is," she insisted. "The woman in your life should be the
most beautiful part of it. You chose to make her the stepping-stone to
your ambition. Consequently you go through life hungry, you wait till
you almost starve, and then suddenly the greatest things in the world
which lie to your hand seem like baubles."
"You are hideously logical," he grumbled.
They were walking slower now, within a few yards of the entrance to her
flat. Both of them were a little disturbed,—she, full as she was with
all the generous impulses of sensuous humanity, intensely awakened,
"Tell me, where is your wife?" she asked.
"It is hopeless with her?"
"Utterly and irretrievably hopeless."
"It has been for long?"
"And for the sake of your principles," she went on, almost angrily,
"your stupid, canonical and dry-as-dust little principles, you've let
your life shrivel up."
"I can't help it," he answered. "What would you have me do? Stand in
the market place and shout my needs?"
She clung to his arm. "You dear thing!" she said. "You're a great
They were in the shadow of the entrance to the flats. He suddenly bent
over her; his lips were almost on hers. There was a frightened gleam in
her eyes, but she made no movement of retreat. Suddenly he drew himself
"That wouldn't help, would it?" he said simply. "Thank you, all the
same, Nora. Good-by!"
On his table, when he entered his rooms that night, lay the letter for
which he had craved. He opened it almost fiercely. The few lines
seemed like a message of hope:
"Don't laugh at me, dear friend, but I am coming to London for a week or
two, to my little house in Charles Street. I don't know exactly when.
You will find time to come and see me?"
Here the mists seem to have fallen upon us like a shroud, and we can't
escape. I galloped many miles this morning, but it was like trying to
find the edge of the world.
Please call on my sister at 17 Mount Street. She likes you and wants to
see more of you.
For some weeks after his chief's dinner party, Tallente slackened a
little in his grim devotion to work. A strangely quiescent period of
day-by-day political history enabled him to be absent from his place in
the House for several evenings during the week, and although he spent a
good many hours with Dartrey at Demos House, carefully discussing and
elaborating next season's programme, he still found himself with time to
spare, and with Jane's note buttoned up in his pocket, he deliberately
turned his face towards life in its more genial and human aspect.
He dined one night at the club to which he had belonged for many years,
a club frequented chiefly by distinguished literary men, successful
barristers, and a sprinkling of actors. His arrival created at first
almost a sensation, a slight feeling of constraint even, amongst the
little gathering of men drinking their apéritifs in the lounge under the
stairs. Somehow or other, there was a feeling that many of the old ties
had been broken. Tallente stood for new and menacing things in
politics. He had to a certain extent cut himself adrift from the world
which starts at Eton and Oxford and ends by making mild puns on the
judicial bench, or uttering sonorous platitudes from a properly
accredited seat in the House.
Tallente, fully appreciating the atmosphere, nevertheless made strenuous
and not unsuccessful efforts to pick up the old threads. He abandoned
even the moderation of his daily life. He drank cocktails, champagne
and port, laughed heartily at the stories of the day and ransacked his
brain to cap them. Of bridge, unfortunately, he knew nothing, but he
played pool with some success, and left the club late, leaving behind
him curiously mingled opinions as to the cause for this sudden return to
his old haunts.
He himself walked through the streets, on his way homeward, conscious of
at least partial success, feeling the pleasurable warmth of the wine he
had drunk and the companionship for which he had so strenuously sought.
He found himself thinking almost enviously of the men with whom he had
associated,—Philipson, with whom he had been at college, with three
plays running at different theatres, interested, even fascinated by his
work, chaffing gaily with his principal actor as to the rendering of
some of his lines. Then there was Fardell, also a schoolfellow, now a
police magistrate, full of dry and pleasant humour, called by his
intimates "The Beak "; Amberson, poseur and dilettante thirty years ago,
but always a good fellow, now an acknowledged master of English prose
and a critic whose word was unquestioned. These men, one and all,
seemed to be up to the neck in life, kept young and human by the taste
of it upon their palate. The contemplation of their whole-sided
existence, their sound combination of work and play, produced in him a
sort of jealousy, for he knew that there was something behind it, which
The night was bright and dry and there were still crowds about Leicester
Square, Piccadilly Circle and Piccadilly itself. As he walked, he
looked into the faces of the women who passed him by, struggling against
his old abhorrence as against one of the sickly offshoots of an
over-eclectic epicureanism. They typified not vice but weakness, the
unhappy result of man's inevitable revolt against unnatural laws. Yet
even then the mingled purity and priggishness encouraged by years of
repression forbade any vital change in his sentiments. The toleration
for which he sought, when it made its grudging appearance, was mingled
with dislike and distrust. He breathed more freely as he turned into
the quieter street in which his rooms were situated, passing them by,
however, crossing Curzon Street and embarking upon a brief pilgrimage
which had become almost a nightly one. Within a very few minutes he
paused before a certain number in a street even more secluded than his
own. At last the thing which he had so greatly anticipated had
happened. There were lights in the house from top to bottom. Jane had
He walked slowly back and forth several times. The music in his blood,
stirred already by the wine he had drunk and the revival of old
memories, moved to a new and more wonderful tune. He knew now, without
any possibility of self-deception, exactly what he had been waiting for,
exactly where all his thoughts and hopes for the future were centered.
Was she there now, he wondered, gazing at the windows like a moon-struck
boy. He lingered about and fate was kind to him.
A limousine swung around the corner and pulled up in front of the door,
a few minutes later. The footman on the box sprang down. He heard her
voice as she said "Good-by" to some one. The car rolled smoothly away.
She crossed the pavement with an involuntary glance at the tall,
"Jane!" he exclaimed.
She stood quite still, with the latch-key in her hand. The car was out
of sight now and they seemed to be almost alone in the street. At first
there was something almost unfamiliar in her rather startled face, her
coiffured hair, her bare neck with its collar of diamonds. There was a
moment of suspense. Then he saw something flash into her eyes and he
was glad to be there.
"You?" she exclaimed, a little breathlessly. He plunged into
"My rooms are close by here in Charges Street," he told her. "I was
walking home from the club and saw you step out of the car."
"How could you know that I was coming to-day?" she asked. "I only
telephoned Alice after I arrived."
"To tell you the truth," he confessed, "I have got into the habit of
walking this way home, in case—well, to-night I have my reward."
She turned the key in the latch and pushed the door open.
"You must come in," she invited.
"Isn't it too late?"
"What does that matter so long as I ask you?"
He followed her gladly into the hall, closing the door behind him.
"That wretched switch is somewhere near here," she said, feeling along
Her fingers suddenly met his and stayed passive in his grasp. She
turned a little around as she realised the nearness of him.
"Jane," he whispered, "I have wanted you so much."
For a single moment she rested in his arms,—a wonderful moment,
inexplicable, voluptuous, stirring him to the very depths. Then she
slipped away. Her fingers sought the wall once more and the place was
flooded with light.
"You must come in here for a moment," she said, opening the nearest
door. "I shall not ask you to share my milk, and I am afraid I don't
know where to get you a whisky and soda, but you can light a cigarette
and just tell me how things are and when you are coming to see me."
He followed her into a comfortable little apartment, furnished in
mid-Victorian fashion, but with an easy-chair drawn up to the brightly
burning fire. On a table near was a glass of milk and some biscuits.
The ermine cloak slipped from her shoulders. She stood with one foot
upon the fender, half turned towards him. His eyes rested upon her,
filled with a great hunger.
"Well?" she queried.
"You are wonderful," he murmured.
She laughed and for a moment her eyes fell.
"But, my dear man," she said, "I don't want compliments. I want to know
"There is none," he answered. "We are marking time while Horlock digs
his own grave."
"You have been amusing yourself?"
"Indifferently. I dined the other night with Dartrey, to-night at the
Sheridan Club. The most exciting thing in the twenty-four hours has
been my nightly pilgrimage round here."
"How idiotic!" she laughed. "Supposing you had not happened to meet me?
You could scarcely have rung my bell at this hour of the night."
"I should have been content to have seen the lights and to have known
that you had arrived."
"You dear man!" she exclaimed, with a sudden smile, a smile of entire
and sweet friendliness. "I like the thought of your doing that. It is
something to know that one is welcome, when one breaks away from the
routine of one's life, as I have."
"Tell me why you have done it?" he asked.
She looked back into the fire.
"Everything was going a little wrong," she explained. "One of my
farmers was troublesome, and the snow has stopped work and hunting. We
lost thirty of our best ewes last week. I found I was getting out of
temper with everybody and everything, so I suddenly remembered that I
had an empty house here and came up."
"To the city of adventures," he murmured.
She shrugged her shoulders.
"London has never seemed like that to me. I find it generally a very
ugly and a very sordid place, where I am hedged in with relatives,
generally wanting me to do the thing I loathe.—You have really no news
for me, then?"
"None, except that I am glad to see you."
"When will you come and have a long talk?"
"Will you dine with me to-morrow night?" he begged eagerly. "In the
afternoon I have committee meetings. Thursday afternoon you could come
down to the House, if you cared to."
"Of course I should, but hadn't you better dine here?" she suggested.
"I can ask Alice and another man."
"I want to see you alone," he insisted, "for the first time, at any
"Then will you take me to that little place you told me of in Soho?" she
suggested. "I don't want a whole crowd to know that I am in town just
yet. Don't think that it sounds vain, but people have such a habit of
almost carrying one off one's feet. I want to prowl about London and do
ordinary things. One or two theatres, perhaps, but no dinner parties.
I shan't stay long, I don't suppose. As soon as I hear from Mr.
Segerson that the snow has gone and that terrible north wind has died
away, I know I shall be wanting to get back."
"You are very conscientious about your work there," he complained.
"Don't you ever realise that you may have an even more important mission
For a single moment she seemed troubled. Her manner, when she spoke,
had lost something of its calm graciousness.
"Really?" she said. "Well, you must tell me all about it to-morrow
night. I shall wear a hat and you must not order the dinner beforehand.
I don't mind your ordering the table, because I like a corner, but we
must sail into the place just like any other two wanderers. It is
He bent over her fingers. His good angel and his instinct of
sensibility, which was always appraising her attitude towards him,
prompted his studied farewell.
"You will let yourself out?" she begged. "I have taken off my cloak and
I could not face that wind."
"Of course," he answered. "I shall call for you at a quarter to eight
to-morrow night. I only wish I could make you understand what it means
to have that to look forward to."
"If you can make me believe that," she answered gravely, "perhaps I
shall be glad that I have come."
Whilst Tallente, rejuvenated, and with a wonderful sense of well-being
at the back of his mind, was on his feet in the House of Commons on the
following afternoon, leading an unexpected attack against the
unfortunate Government, Dartrey sat at tea in Nora's study. Nora, who
had had a very busy day, was leaning back in her chair, well content
though a little fatigued. Dartrey, who had forgotten his lunch in the
stress of work, was devoting himself to the muffins.
"While I think of it," he said, "let me thank you for playing hostess so
charmingly the other night."
She made him a little bow.
"Your dinner party was a great success."
"Was it?" he murmured, a little doubtfully. "I am not quite so sure. I
can't seem to get at Tallente, somehow."
"He is doing his work well, isn't he?"
"The mechanical side of it is most satisfactory," Dartrey confessed.
"He is the most perfect Parliamentary machine that was ever evolved."
"Surely that is exactly what you want? You were always complaining that
there was no one to bring the stragglers into line."
"For the present," Dartrey admitted, "Tallente is doing excellently. I
wish, though, that I could see a little farther into the future."
"Tell me exactly what fault you find with him?" Nora persisted.
"He lacks enthusiasm already. He makes none of the mistakes which are
coincident with genius and he is a little intolerant. He takes no
trouble to adapt himself to varying views, he has a fine, broad outlook,
but no man can see into every corner of the earth, and what is outside
his outlook does not exist."
"He is not happy in his work. There is something wanting in his scheme
of life. I have built a ladder for him to climb. I have given him the
chance of becoming the greatest statesman of to-day. One would think
that he had some other ambition."
Nora sighed. She looked across at her visitor a little diffidently.
"I can help you to understand Andrew Tallente," she declared. "His
condition is the greatest of all tributes to my sex. He has had an
unhappy married life. From forty to fifty he has borne it
philosophically as a man may. Now the reaction has come. With the
first dim approach of age, he becomes suddenly terrified for the things
he is missing."
Dartrey was thoughtful.
"I dare say you are right," he admitted, "but if he needs an Aspasia,
surely she could be found?"
Nora rested her head upon her fingers. She seemed to be watching
intently the dancing flames. Her broad, womanly forehead was troubled,
her soft brown eyes pensive.
"He is fifty years old," she said. "It is rather an anomalous age. At
fifty a man's taste is almost hypercritical and his attraction to my sex
is on the wane. No, the problem isn't so easy."
Dartrey had finished tea and was feeling for his cigarette case.
"I rather fancied, Nora, that he was attracted by you."
"Well, he isn't, then," she replied, with a smile.
"He was rather by way of thinking that he was, the other night, but that
was simply because he was in a curiously unsettled state and he felt
that I was sympathetic."
"You are a very clever woman, Nora," he said, looking across at her.
"You could make him care for you if you chose."
"Is that to be my sacrifice to the cause?" she asked. "Am I to give my
soul to its wrong keeper, that our party may flourish?"
"You don't like Tallente?"
"I like him immensely," she contradicted vigorously. "If I weren't
hopelessly in love with some one else, I could find it perfectly easy to
try and make life a different place for him."
He looked at her with trouble in his kind eyes. It was as though he had
suddenly stumbled upon a tragedy.
"I have never guessed this about you, Nora," he murmured.
"You are not observant of small things," she answered, a little
"Who is the man?"
"That I shall not tell you."
"Do I know him?"
"Less, I should say, than any one of your acquaintance."
He was silent for a moment or two. Then it chanced that the telephone
rang for him, with a message from the House of Commons. He gave some
instructions to his secretary.
"It is a queer thing," he remarked, as he replaced the receiver, "how
far our daily work and our ambitions take us out of our immediate
environment. I see you day by day, Nora, I have known you intimately
since your school days—and I never guessed."
"You never guessed and I have no time to suffer," she answered. "So we
go on until the breaking time comes, until one part of ourselves
conquers and the other loses. It is rather like that just now with
Andrew Tallente. A few more years and it will probably be like that
He threw his cigarette away as though the flavour had suddenly become
distasteful and sat drumming with his fingers upon the table, his eyes
fixed upon Nora.
"Tallente's position," he said thoughtfully, "one can understand. He is
married, isn't he, and with all the splendid breadth of his intellectual
outlook he is still harassed by the social fetters of his birth and
bringing up. I can conceive Tallente as a person too highminded to seek
to evade the law and too scornful for intrigue. But you, Nora, how is
it that your love brings you unhappiness? You are young and free, and
surely," he concluded, with a little sigh, "when you choose you can make
She looked at him with a peculiar light in her eyes.
"I have proved myself very far from being irresistible," she declared.
"The man for whose love my whole being is aching to-day is absolutely
unawakened as to my desirability. I enjoy with him the most impersonal
friendship in which two people of opposite sexes ever indulged."
"I thought that I was acquainted with all your intimates," Dartrey
observed, in a puzzled tone. "Let me meet this man and judge for
"Do you mean that?" she asked.
"Very well, then," she acquiesced, "I'll ask him to dinner here. When
are you free?"
He glanced through a thin memorandum book.
"On Sunday night?"
"At eight o'clock," she said. "You won't mind a simple dinner, I know.
I can promise you that you will be interested. My friend is worth
Dartrey took his departure a little hurriedly. He had suddenly
remembered an appointment at his committee rooms and went off with his
mind full of the troubles of a northern constituency. On his way up
Parliament Street he met Miller, who turned and walked by his side.
"Heard the news?" the latter asked curtly. "No. Is there any?" was the
"Tallente's broken the truce," Miller announced. "There was rather an
acid debate on the Compensation Clauses of Hensham's Allotment Bill.
Tallente pulled them to pieces and then challenged a division. The
Government Whips were fairly caught napping and were beaten by twelve
votes." Dartrey's eyes flashed.
"Tallente is a most wonderful tactician," he said. "This is the second
time he's forced the Government into a hole. Horlock will never last
the session, at this rate."
"There are rumours of a resignation, of course," Miller went on, "but
they aren't likely to go out on a snatched division like this."
"We don't want them to," Dartrey agreed. "All the time, though, this
sort of thing is weakening their prestige. We shall be ready to give
them their coup de grace in about four months."
The two men were silent for a moment. Then Miller spoke again a little
"I can't seem to get on with Tallente," he confessed.
"I am sorry," Dartrey regretted. "You'll have to try, Miller. We can't
do without him."
"Try? I have tried," was the impatient rejoinder. "Tallente may have
his points but nature never meant him to be a people's man. He's too
hidebound in convention and tradition. Upon my soul, Dartrey, he makes
me feel like a republican of the bloodthirsty age, he's so blasted
"You're going back to the smaller outlook, Miller," his chief
expostulated. "These personal prejudices should be entirely negligible.
I am perfectly certain that Tallente himself would lay no stress upon
"Stress upon them? Damn it, I'm as good as he is!" Miller exclaimed
irritably. "There's no harm in Tallente's ratting, quitting his order
and coming amongst us Democrats, but what I do object to is his bringing
the mannerisms and outlook of Eton and Oxford amongst us. When I am
with him, he always makes me feel that I am doing the wrong thing and
that he knows it."
Dartrey frowned a little impatiently.
"This is rubbish, Miller," he pronounced. "It is you who are to blame
for attaching the slightest importance to these trifles."
"Trifles!" Miller growled. "Within a very short time, Dartrey, this
question will have to be settled. Does Tallente know that I am promised
a seat in his Cabinet?"
"I think that he must surmise it."
"The sooner he knows, the better," Miller declared acidly. "Tallente
can unbend all right when he likes. He was dining at the Trocadero the
other night with Brooks and Ainley and Parker and Saunderson—the most
cheerful party in the place. Tallente seemed to have slipped out of
himself, and yet there isn't one of those men who has ever had a day's
schooling or has ever worn anything but ready-made clothes. He leaves
his starch off when he's with them. What's the matter with me, I should
like to know? I'm a college man, even though I did go as an
exhibitioner. I was a school teacher when those fellows were wielding
Dartrey looked at his companion thoughtfully. For a single moment the
words trembled upon his lips which would have brought things to an
instant and profitless climax. Then he remembered the million or so of
people of Miller's own class and way of thinking, to whom he was a
leading light, and he choked back the words.
"I find this sort of conversation a little peevish, Miller," he said.
"As soon as any definite difference of opinion arises between you and
Tallente, I will intervene. At present you are both doing good work.
Our cause needs you both."
"You won't forget how I stand?" Miller persisted, as they reached their
"No one has ever yet accused me of breaking my word," was the somewhat
chilly rejoinder. "You shall have your pound of flesh."
Jane leaned back in her chair, drew off her gloves and looked around her
with an appreciative smile. She had somehow the subtle air of being
even more pleased with herself and her surroundings than she was willing
to admit. Every table in the restaurant was occupied. The waiters were
busy: there was an air of gaiety. A faint smell of cookery hung about
the place and its clients were undeniably a curious mixture of the
bourgeois and theatrical. Nevertheless, she was perfectly content and
smiled her greetings to the great Monsieur George, who himself brought
"We want the best of your ordinary dishes," Tallente told him, "and
remember that we do not come here expecting Ritz specialities or a Savoy
chef d'oeuvre. We want those special hors d'oeuvres which you know
all about, a sole grilled a la maison, a plainly roasted chicken with
an endive salad. The sweets are your affair. The savoury must be a
cheese soufflé. And for wine—"
He broke off and looked across the table. Jane smiled apologetically.
"You will never bring me out again," she declared. "I want some
"I never felt more like it myself," he agreed. "The Pommery, George,
slightly iced, an aperitif now, and the dinner can take its course. We
will linger over the hors d'oeuvres and we are in no hurry."
George departed and Tallente smiled across at his companion. It was a
wonderful moment, this. His steady success of the last few months, the
triumph of the afternoon had never brought him one of the thrills which
were in his pulses at that moment, not one iota of the pleasurable sense
of well-being which was warming his veins. The new menace which had
suddenly thrown its shadow across his path was forgotten. Governments
might come or go, a career be made or broken upon the wheel. He was
alone with Jane.
"Now tell me all the news at Woolhanger?" he asked.
"Woolhanger lies under a mantle of snow," she told him. "There is a
wind blowing there which seems to have come straight from the ice of the
North Pole and sounds like the devil playing bowls amongst the hills."
"All stopped, of course. A few nights ago, two stags came right up to
the house and quite a troop of the really wild ponies from over
Hawkbridge way. We've never had such a spell of cold in my memory. It
reminded one of the snowstorm in 'Lorna Doone.'—But after all, I told
you all about Woolhanger last night. I want your news."
"I seem to have settled down with the Democrats," he told her. "I do my
best to keep the party in line. The great trades unions are, of course,
our chief difficulty, but I think we are making progress even with them.
Some of the miners' representatives dined with me at the Trocadero the
other night. Good fellows they are, too. There is only one great
difficulty," he went on, "in the consolidation of my party, and that is
to get a little more breadth into the views of these men who represent
the leading industries. They are obsessed with the duties that they owe
to their own artificers and the labour connected with the particular
industry they represent. It is hard to make them see the importance of
any other subject. Yet we need these very men as lawmakers. I want
them to study production and the laws of production from a universal
point of view."
"I can quite understand," she acquiesced sympathetically, "that you have
a difficult class of men to deal with. Tell me what the evening papers
mean by their placards?"
"We had a small tactical success against the Government this afternoon,"
he explained. "It doesn't really amount to anything. We are not ready
for their resignation at the moment, any more than they are ready to
"You are an object of terror to all my people," she confided smilingly.
"They say that Horlock dare not go to the country and that you could
turn him out to-morrow if you cared to."
"So much for politics," he remarked drily.
"So much for politics," she assented. "And now about yourself?"
"A little finger of flame burning in an empty place," he sighed. "That
is how life seems to me when I take my hand off the plough."
She answered him lightly, but her face softened and her eyes shone with
"Aren't you by way of being just a little sentimental?"
"Perhaps," he admitted. "If I am, let me feel the luxury of it."
"One reads different things of you."
"Town Topics says that you have become an interesting figure at many
social functions. You must meet attractive people there."
"I only wish that I could find them so," he answered. "London has been
almost feverishly gay lately and every one seems to have discovered a
vogue for entertaining politicians. There seems to be a sort of idea
that dangerous corners may be rubbed off us by a judicious application
of turtle soup and champagne."
"Cynic!" she scoffed pleasantly.
"Well, I don't know," he went on. "From any other point of view, some
of the entertainments to which I have been bidden appear utterly without
meaning. However, it is part of my programme to prove to the world that
we Democrats can open our arms wide enough to include every class in
life. Therefore, I go to many places I should otherwise avoid. I have
studied the attitude of the younger women whom I have approached, purely
impersonally and without the slightest hypersensitiveness. They have
all been perfectly pleasant, perfectly disposed for conversation or any
of the usual social amenities. But they know that I have in the
background a wife. To flirt with a married man of fifty isn't worth
"It appears to me," she said, with a slight note of severity in her
tone, "that you have set your mind upon having a perfectly frivolous
"Not at all," he objected. "I have simply been experimenting."
The service of dinner had now commenced, and with George in the
background, a haughty head waiter a few yards off, and a myrmidon
handing them their dishes with a beatific smile, the conversation
drifted naturally into generalities. When they resumed their more
intimate talk, Tallente felt himself inspired by an ever-increasing
admiration for his companion and her adaptability. During this brief
interval he had seen many admiring and some wondering glances directed
towards Jane and he realised that she was somehow a person entirely
apart from any of the others, more beautiful, more distinguished, more
desirable. Of the Lady Jane ruling at Woolhanger with a high hand,
there was no trace. She looked out upon the gay room with its
voluptuous air, its many couples and little parties carrées, with the
friendly and sympathetic interest of one who finds herself in agreeable
surroundings and whose only desire is to come into touch with them. Her
plain black gown, her simple hat with its single quill, the pearls which
were her sole adornment, all seemed part of her. She appeared wholly
unconscious of the admiration she excited. She who was sometimes
inclined, perhaps, to carry herself a little haughtily in her mother's
drawing-room, was here only anxious to share in the genial atmosphere of
friendliness which the general tone of her surroundings seemed to
"Well, what was the final result of your efforts towards companionship?"
she enquired, after they had praised the chicken enthusiastically and
the wave of service had momentarily ebbed kitchenwards.
"They have led me to only one conclusion," he answered swiftly.
"That if you remain on Exmoor and I in Westminster, the affairs of this
country are not likely to prosper."
She laughed softly.
"As though I made any real' difference!"
Then she saw a transformed man. The firm mouth suddenly softened, the
keen bright eyes glowed. A light shone out of his worn face which few
had ever seen there.
"You make all the difference," he whispered. "You of your mercy can
save me from the rocks. I have discovered very late in life, too late,
many would say, that I cannot build the temples of life with hands and
brain alone. Even though the time be short and I have so little to
offer, I am your greedy suitor. I want help, I want sympathy, I want
There was nothing whatever left now of Lady Jane of Woolhanger.
Segerson would probably not have recognised his autocratic mistress.
The most timid of her tenant farmers would have adopted a bold front
with her. She was simply a very beautiful woman, trembling a little,
unsteady, nervous and unsure of herself.
"Oh, I wish you hadn't said that!" she faltered.
"But I must say it," he insisted, with that alien note of tenderness
still throbbing in his tone. "You are not a dabbler in life. You have
never been afraid to stand on your feet, to look at it whole. There is
the solid, undeniable truth. It is a woman's glory to help men on to
the great places, and the strangest thing in all the world is that there
is only one woman for any one man, and for me—you are the only one
Around them conversation had grown louder, the blue cloud of tobacco
smoke more dense, the odour of cigarettes and coffee more pungent. Down
in the street a wandering musician was singing a little Neapolitan love
song. They heard snatches of it as the door downstairs was opened.
"You have known me for so short a time," she argued. "How can you
possibly be sure that I could give you what you want? And in any case,
how could I give anything except my eager wishes, my friendship—perhaps,
if you will, my affection? But would that bring you content?"
"No!" he answered unhesitatingly. "I want your love, I want you
yourself. You have played a woman's part in life. You haven't been
content to sit down and wait for what fate might bring you. You have
worked out your own destiny and you have shown that you have courage.
Don't disprove it."
She looked him in the eyes, very sweetly, but with the shadow of a great
disturbance in her face.
"I want to help you," she said. "Indeed, I feel more than you can
believe—more than I could have believed possible—the desire, the
longing to help. But what is there you can ask of me beyond my hand in
yours, beyond all the comradeship which a woman who has more in her
heart than she dare own, can give?"
Once more the door was opened below. The voice of the singer came
floating up. Then it was closed again and the little passionate cry
blotted out. His lips moved but he said nothing. It seemed suddenly,
from the light in his face, that he might have been echoing those words
which rang in her ears. She trembled and suddenly held her hand across
"Hold my fingers," she begged. "These others will think that we have
made a bet or a compact. What does it matter? I want to give you all
that I can. Will you be patient? Will you remember that you have found
your way along a very difficult path to a goal which no one yet has ever
reached? I could tell you more but may not that be enough? I want you
to have something to carry away with you, something not too cold,
something that burns a little with the beginnings of life and love, and,
if you will, perhaps hope. May that content you for a little while, for
you see, although I am not a girl, these things, and thoughts of these
things, are new to me?"
He drew a little breath. It seemed to him that there was no more
beautiful place on earth than this little smoke-hung corner of the
restaurant. The words which escaped from his lips were vibrant,
"I am your slave. I will wait. There is no one like you in the world."
Tallente found a distant connection of his waiting for him in his
rooms, on his return from the House at about half-past six,—Spencer
Williams, a young man who, after a brilliant career at Oxford, had
become one of the junior secretaries to the Prime Minister. The young
man rose to his feet at Tallente's entrance and hastened to explain his
"You'll forgive my waiting, sir," he begged. "Your servant told me that
you were dining out and would be home before seven o'clock to change."
"Quite right, Spencer," Tallente replied. "Glad to see you. Whisky and
soda or cocktail?"
The young man chose a whisky and soda, and Tallente followed suit,
waving his visitor back into his chair and seating himself opposite.
"Get right into the middle of it, please," he enjoined.
"To begin with, then, can you break your engagement and come and dine
with the Chief?"
"Out of the question, even if it were a royal command," was the firm
reply. "My engagement is unbreakable."
"The Chief will be sorry," Williams said. "So am I. Will you go round
to Downing Street and see him afterwards?"
"I could," Tallente admitted, "but why? I have nothing to say to him.
I can't conceive what he could have to say to me. There are always
pressmen loitering about Downing Street, who would place the wrong
construction on my visit. You saw all the rubbish they wrote because he
and I talked together for a quarter of an hour at Mrs. Van Fosdyke's?"
"I know all about that," Williams assented, "but this time, Tallente,
there's something in it. The Chief quarrelled with you for the sake of
the old gang. Well, he made a bloomer. The old gang aren't worth
six-pence. They're rather a hindrance than help to legislation, and
when they're wanted they're wobbly, as you saw this afternoon.
Lethbridge went into the lobby with you."
Tallente smiled a little grimly.
"He took particularly good care that I should know that."
"Well, there you are," Williams went on. "The Chief's fed up. I can
talk to you here freely because I'm not an official person. Can you
discuss terms at all for a rapprochement?"
"Out of the question!"
"You mean that you are too much committed to Dartrey and the Democrats?"
"'Committed' to them is scarcely the correct way of putting it,"
Tallente objected. "Their principles are in the main my principles.
They stand for the cause I have championed all my life. Our alliance is
a natural, almost an automatic one."
"It's all very well, sir," Williams argued, "but Dartrey stands for a
Labour Party, pure and simple. You can't govern an Empire by parish
"That is where the Democrats come in," Tallente pointed out. "They
have none of the narrower outlook of the Labour Party as you understand
it—of any of the late factions of the Labour Party, perhaps I should
say. The Democrats possess an international outlook. When they
legislate, every class will receive its proper consideration. No class
will be privileged. A man will be ranked according to his production."
Williams smiled with the faint cynicism of clairvoyant youth.
"Sounds a little Utopian, sir," he ventured. "What about Miller?"
"Well, what about him?"
"Are you going to serve with him?"
"Really," Tallente protested, "for a political opponent, or the
representative of a political opponent, you're a trifle on the
"It's a matter that you'll have to face sometime or other," the young
man asserted. "I happen to know that Dartrey is committed to Miller."
"I don't see how you can happen to know anything of the sort," Tallente
declared, a little bluntly. "In any case, Spencer, my political
association or nonassociation with Miller is entirely my own affair, and
you can hook it. Remember me to all your people, and give my love to
"Nothing doing, eh?" Williams observed, rising reluctantly to his feet.
"You have perception," Tallente replied.
"The Chief was afraid you might be a little difficult about an
interview. Those pressmen are an infernal nuisance, anyway. What about
sneaking into Downing Street at about midnight, in a cloak and slouch
"Too much of the cinema about you, young fellow," Tallente scoffed.
"Run along now. I have to dress."
Tallente held out his hand good-humouredly. His visitor made no
immediate motion to take it.
"There was just one thing more I was asked to mention, sir," he said.
"I will be quite frank if I may. My instructions were not to allude to
it if your attitude were in the least conciliatory."
"Go on," Tallente bade him curtly.
"There has been a rumour going about that some years ago—while the war
was on, in fact—you wrote a very wonderful attack upon the trades
unions. This attack was so bitter in tone, so damning in some of its
facts, and, in short, such a wonderful production, that at the last
moment the late Prime Minister used his influence with you to suspend
its publication. It was held over, and in the meantime the attitude of
the trades unions towards certain phases of the war was modified, and
the collapse of Germany followed soon afterwards. Consequently, that
article was never published."
"You are exceedingly well informed," Tallente admitted. "Pray proceed."
"There is in existence," the young man continued, "a signed copy of that
article. Its publication at the present moment would probably make your
position with the Democratic Party untenable."
"Is this a matter of blackmail?" Tallente asked.
The young man stiffened.
"I am speaking on behalf of the Prime Minister, sir. He desired me to
inform you that the signed copy of that article has been offered to him
within the last few days."
Tallente was silent for several moments. The young man's subtle
intimation was a shock in more ways than one.
"The manuscript to which you refer," he said at last, "was stolen from
my study at Martinhoe under somewhat peculiar conditions."
"Perhaps you would like to explain those conditions to Mr. Horlock,"
Tallente held open the door.
"I shall not seek out your Chief," he said, "but I will tell him the
truth about that manuscript if at any time we should come together. In
the meantime, I am perfectly in accord with the view which your Chief no
doubt holds concerning it. The publication of that article at the
present moment would inevitably end my connection with the Democratic
Party and probably close my political career. This is a position which
I should court rather than submit to blackmail direct or indirect."
"My Chief will resent your using such a word, sir," Williams declared.
"Your Chief could have avoided it by a judicious use of the waste-paper
basket and an exercise of the gift of silence." Tallente retorted, as
the young man took his departure.
Horlock came face to face with Tallente the following afternoon, in one
of the corridors of the House and, scarcely troubling about an
invitation, led him forcibly into his private room. He turned his
secretary out and locked the door.
"A cigar?" he suggested.
Tallente shook his head.
"I want to see what's doing, in a few minutes," he said.
"I can tell you that," Horlock declared. "Nothing at all! I was just
off when I happened to see you. You're looking very fit and pleased
with yourself. Is it because of that rotten trick you played on us the
"Rotten? I thought it was rather clever of me," Tallente objected.
"Perfectly legitimate, I suppose," the other assented grudgingly.
"That's the worst of having a tactician in opposition."
"You shouldn't have let me get there," was the quick retort.
Horlock drew a paper knife slowly down between his fingers.
"I sent Williams to you yesterday."
"You did. A nice errand for a respectably brought-up young man!"
"Chuck that, Tallente."
"Why? I didn't misunderstand him, did I?"
"Apparently. He told me that you used the word 'blackmail.'"
"I don't think the dictionary supplies a milder equivalent."
"Tallente," said Horlock with a frown, "we'll finish with this once and
for ever. I refused the offer of the manuscript in question."
"I am glad to hear it," was the laconic reply.
"Leaving that out of the question, then, I suppose there's no chance of
"Not the faintest. I rather fancy I've settled down for good."
Horlock lit a cigarette and leaned back in his chair.
"No good looking impatient, Tallente," he said. "The door's locked and
you know it. You'll have to listen to what I want to say. A few
minutes of your time aren't much to ask for."
"Go ahead," Tallente acquiesced.
"There is only one ambition," Horlock continued, "for an earnest
politician. You know what that is as well as I do. Wouldn't you sooner
be Prime Minister, supported by a recognised and reputable political
party, than try to pull the chestnuts out of the fire for your friends
Dartrey, Miller and company?"
"So this is the last bid, eh?" Tallente observed.
"It's the last bid of all," was the grave answer. "There is nothing
"And what becomes of you?"
"One section of the Press will say that I have shown self-denial and
patriotism greater than any man of my generation and that my name will
be handed down to history as one of the most single-minded statesmen of
the day. Another section will say that I have been forced into a
well-deserved retirement and that it will remain a monument to my
everlasting disgrace that I brought my party to such straits that it was
obliged to compromise with the representative of an untried and unproven
conglomeration of fanatics. A third section—"
"Oh, chuck it!" Tallente interrupted. "Horlock, I appreciate your offer
because I know that there is a large amount of self-denial in it, but I
am glad of an opportunity to end all these discussions. My word is
passed to Dartrey."
"And Miller?" the Prime Minister asked, with calm irony.
Tallente felt the sting and frowned irritably.
"I have had no discussions of any sort with Miller," he answered. "He
has never been represented to me as holding an official position in the
"If you ever succeed in forming a Democratic Government," Horlock said,
"mark my words, you will have to include him."
"If ever I accept any one's offer to form a Government," Tallente
replied, "it will be on one condition and one condition only, which is
that I choose my own Ministers."
"If you become the head of the Democratic Party," Horlock pointed out,
"you will have to take over their pledges."
"I do not agree with you," was the firm reply, "and further, I suggest
most respectfully that this discussion is not agreeable to me."
An expression of hopelessness crept into Horlock's face.
"You're a good fellow, Tallente," he sighed, "and I made a big mistake
when I let you go. I did it to please the moderates and you know how
they've turned out. There isn't one of them worth a row of pins. If
any one ever writes my political biography, they will probably decide
that the parting with you was the greatest of my blunders."
He rose to his feet, swinging the key upon his finger.
"One more word, Tallente," he added. "I want to warn you that so far as
your further progress is concerned, there is a snake in the grass
somewhere. The manuscript of which Williams spoke to you, and which
would of course damn you forever with any party which depended for its
existence even indirectly upon the trades unions, was offered to me,
without any hint at financial return, on the sole condition that I
guaranteed its public production. It is perfectly obvious, therefore,
that there is some one stirring who means harm. I speak to you now only
as a friend and as a well-wisher. Did I understand Williams to say that
the document was stolen from your study at Martinhoe?"
"It was stolen," Tallente replied, "by my secretary, Anthony Palliser,
who disappeared with it one night in August."
"'Disappeared' seems rather a vague term," Horlock remarked.
"A trifle melodramatic, I admit," Tallente assented. "So were the
circumstances of his—disappearance. I can assure you that I have had
the police inspector of fiction asking me curious questions and I am
convinced that down in Devonshire I am still an object of suspicion to
the local gossips."
"I remember reading about the affair at the time," Horlock remarked, as
he unlocked the door. "It never occurred to me, though, to connect it
with anything of this sort. Surely Palliser was a cut above the
Tallente shrugged his shoulders. "A confusion of ethics," he said. "I
dare say you remember that the young man conspired with my wife to boost
me into a peerage behind my back However!—"
"One last word, Tallente," Horlock interrupted. "I am not at liberty to
tell you from what source the offer as to your article came, but I can
tell you this—Palliser was not or did not appear to be connected with
it in any way."
"But I know who was," Tallente exclaimed, with a sudden lightning-like
recollection of that meeting on the railway platform at Woody
Horlock made no answer. To his visitor, however, the whole affair was
"Miller must have bought the manuscript from Palliser," he said, "when
he knew what sort of an offer Dartrey was going to make to me and
realised how it would affect him. Horlock, I am not sure, after all,
that I don't rather envy you if you decide to drop out of politics. The
main road is well enough, but the by-ways are pretty filthy."
Horlock remained gravely silent and Tallente passed out of the room,
realising that he had finally severed his connection with orthodox
English politics. The realisation, however, was rather more of a relief
than otherwise. For fifteen years he had been cumbered with precedent
in helping to govern by compromise. Now he was for the clean sweep or
nothing. He strolled into the House and back into his own committee
room, read through the orders of the day and spoke to the Government
Whip. It was, as Horlock had assured him, a dead afternoon. There were
a sheaf of questions being asked, none of which were of the slightest
interest to any one. With a little smile of anticipation upon his lips,
he hurried to the telephone. In a few moments he was speaking to Annie,
Lady Jane's maid.
"Will you give her ladyship a message?" he asked. "Tell her that I am
unexpectedly free for an hour or so, and ask if I may come around and
see her?" The maid was absent from the telephone for less than a minute.
When she returned, her message was brief but satisfactory. Her ladyship
would be exceedingly pleased to see Mr. Tallente.
Tallente found a taxi on the stand and drove at once to Charles Street.
The butler took his hat and stick and conducted him into the spacious
drawing-room upon the first floor. Here he received a shock. The most
natural thing in the world had happened, but an event which he had never
even taken into his calculation. There were half a dozen other callers,
all, save one, women. Jane saw his momentary look of consternation, but
was powerless to send him even an answering message of sympathy. She
held out her hand and welcomed him with a smile.
"This is perfectly charming of you, Mr. Tallente," she said. "I know
how busy you must be in the afternoons, but I am afraid I am
old-fashioned enough to like my men friends to sometimes forget even the
affairs of the nation. You know my sister, I think—Lady Alice
Mountgarron? Aunt, may I present Mr. Tallente—the Countess of
Somerham. Mrs. Ward Levitte—Lady English—oh! and Colonel Fosbrook."
Tallente made the best of a very disappointing situation. He exchanged
bows with his new acquaintances, declined tea and was at once taken
possession of by Lady Somerham, a formidable-looking person in
tortoise-shell-rimmed spectacles, with a rasping voice and a judicial
"So you are the Mr. Tallente," she began, "who Somerham tells me has
achieved the impossible!"
"Upon the face of it," Tallente rejoined, with a smile, "your husband is
proved guilty of an exaggeration."
"Poor Henry!" his wife sighed. "He does get a little hysterical about
politics nowadays. What he says is that you are in a fair way to form a
coherent and united political party out of the various factions of
Labour, a thing which a little time ago no one thought possible."
Tallente promptly disclaimed the achievement.
"Stephen Dartrey is the man who did that," he declared. "I only joined
the Democrats a few months ago."
"But you are their leader," Lady Alice put in.
"Only in the House of Commons," Tallente replied.
"Dartrey is the leader of the party."
"Somerham says that Dartrey is a dreamer," the Countess went on, "that
you are the man of affairs and the actual head of them all."
"Your husband magnifies my position," Tallente assured her.
Mrs. Ward Levitte, the wife of a millionaire and a woman of vogue,
leaned forward and addressed him.
"Do set my mind at rest, Mr. Tallente," she begged. "Are you going to
break up our homes and divide our estates amongst the poor?"
"Is there going to be a revolution?" Lady English asked eagerly. "And
is it true that you are in league with all the Bolshevists on the
Tallente masked his irritation and answered with a smile.
"Civil war," he declared, "commences to-morrow. Every one with a title
is to be interned in an asylum, all country houses are to be turned into
sanatoriums and all estates will be confiscated."
"The tiresome man won't tell us anything," Lady Alice sighed.
"Of course, he won't," Mrs. Ward Levitte observed. "You can't announce
a revolution beforehand truthfully."
"If there is a revolution within the next fifteen years," Tallente said,
"I think it will probably be on behalf of the disenfranchised
aristocracy, who want the vote back again."
Lady English and Mrs. Levitte found something else to talk about
between themselves. Lady Somerham, however, had no intention of letting
"You are a neighbour of my niece in Devonshire, I believe?" she asked.
He admitted the fact monosyllabically. He was supremely uncomfortable,
and it seemed to him that Jane, who was conducting an apparently
entertaining conversation with Colonel Fosbrook, might have done
something to rescue him.
"My niece has very broad ideas," Lady Somerham went on. "Some of her
fellow landowners in Devonshire are very much annoyed with the way she
has been getting rid of her property."
"Lady Jane," he pronounced drily, "is in my opinion very wise. She is
anticipating the legislation to come, which will inevitably restore the
land to the people, from whom, in most cases, it was stolen."
"Well, my husband gave two hundred thousand pounds of good, hard-earned
money for Stoughton, where we live," Mrs. Ward Levitte intervened. "So
far as I know, the money wasn't stolen from anybody, and I should say
that the robbery would begin if the Socialists, or whatever they call
themselves, tried to take it away from us to distribute amongst their
followers. What do you think, Mr. Tallente? My husband, as I dare say
you know, is a banker and a very hard-working man."
"I agree with you," he replied. "One of the pleasing features of the
axioms of Socialism adopted by the Democratic Party is that it respects
the rights of the wealthy as well as the rights of the poor man. The
Democrats may—in fact, they most certainly will—legislate to prevent
the hoarding of wealth or to have it handed down to unborn generations,
but I can assure you that it does not propose to interfere with the
ethics of meum and tuum."
"I wish I could make out what it's all about," Lady Alice murmured.
"Couldn't you give a drawing-room lecture, Mr. Tallente, and tell us?"
the banker's wife suggested.
"I am unfortunately a little short of time for such missionary
enterprise," Tallente replied, with unappreciated sarcasm. "Dartrey's
volume on 'Socialism in Our Daily Life' will tell you all about it."
"Far too dry," she sighed. "I tried to read it but I never got past the
first half-dozen pages."
"Some day," Tallente observed coolly, "it may be worth your while, all
of you, to try and master the mental inertia which makes thought a
labour; the application which makes a moderately good bridge player
should be sufficient. Otherwise, you may find yourselves living in an
altered state of Society, without any reasonable idea as to how you got
there." Mrs. Ward Levitte turned to her hostess.
"Lady Jane," she begged, "come and rescue us, please. We are being
scolded. Colonel Fosbrook, we need a man to protect us. Mr. Tallente
is threatening us with terrible things."
"We're getting what we asked for," Lady Alice put in quickly.
Colonel Fosbrook caressed for a moment a somewhat scanty moustache. He
was a man of early middle-age, with a high forehead, an aquiline nose
and a somewhat vague expression.
"I'm afraid my protection wouldn't be much use to you," he said,
regarding Tallente with mild interest. "I happen to be one of the few
surviving Tories. I imagine that Mr. Tallente's opinions and mine are
so far apart that even argument would be impossible."
Tallente acquiesced, smiling.
"Besides which, I never argue, outside the House," he added. "You
should stand for Parliament, Colonel Fosbrook, and let us hear once more
the Athanasian Creed of politics. All opposition is wholesome."
Colonel Fosbrook glared. The fact that he had three times stood for
Parliament and three times been defeated was one of the mortifications
of his life. He made his adieux to Jane and departed, and to Tallente's
joy a break-up of the party seemed imminent. Mrs. Ward Levitte drifted
out and Lady English followed suit. Lady Somerham also rose to her
feet, but after a glance at Tallente sat down again.
"My dear Jane," she insisted, "you must dine with us to-night. You
haven't been here long enough to have any engagements, and it always
puts your uncle in such a good temper to hear that you are coming."
Jane shook her head.
"Sorry, aunt," she regretted, "but I am dining with the Temperleys. I
met Diana in Bond Street this morning."
"I am keeping Thursday for—a friend. Saturday I am free."
"Saturday we are going into the country," her aunt said, a little
ungraciously. "Heaven knows what for! Your uncle hates shooting and
always catches cold if he gets his feet wet."
Tallente unwillingly held out his hand to his hostess. He seemed to
have no alternative but to make his adieux. Jane walked with him
towards the door.
"I am horribly disappointed," he confessed, under his breath.
She smiled a little deprecatingly.
"I couldn't help having people here, could I?"
"I suppose not," he answered, with masculine unreasonableness. "I only
know that I wanted to see you alone."
"Men are such schoolboys," she murmured tolerantly. "Even you! I must
see my friends, mustn't I, when they know that I am here and call?"
"About that friend on Thursday night?" he went on.
"I am waiting to hear from him," she answered, "whether he prefers to
dine here or to take me out."
His ill-humour vanished, and with it some of his stiffness of bearing.
His farewell bow from the door to Lady Somerham was distinguished with a
"If we may be alone," he said softly, "I should like to come here."
Nevertheless, his visit left him a little disturbed, perhaps a little
irritable. With all the dominant selfishness which is part of a man's
love, he had spent every waking leisure moment since their last meeting
in a world peopled by Jane and himself alone, a world in which any other
would have been an intruder. His eagerly anticipated visit to her had
brought him sharply up against the commonplace facts of their day-by-day
existence. He began to realise that she was without the liberty
accorded to his sex, or to such women as Nora Miall, whose emancipation
was complete. Jane's way through life was guarded by a hundred
irritating conventions. He began to doubt even whether she realised the
full import of what had happened between them. There was nothing gross
about his love, not even a speculation in his mind as to its ultimate
conclusion. He was immersed in a wave of sentimentality. He wanted her
by his side, free from any restraint. He wanted the joy of her
presence, more of those soft, almost reluctant kisses, the mute
obedience of her nature to the sweet and natural impulse of her love.
Of the inevitable end of these things he never thought. He was like a
schoolboy in love for the first time. His desires led him no further
than the mystic joy of her presence, the sweet, passionless content of
propinquity. For the time the rest lay somewhere in a world of golden
promise. The sole right that he burned to claim was the right to have
her continually by his side in the moments when he was freed from his
work, and even with the prospect of the following night before him, he
chafed a little as he reflected that until then he must stand aside and
let others claim her. In a fit of restlessness he abandoned his usual
table in the House of Commons grillroom, and dined instead at the
Sheridan Club, where he drank a great deal of champagne and absorbed
with ready appreciation and amusement the philosophy of the man of
pleasure. This was one of the impulses which kept his nature pliant
even in the midst of these days of crisis.
Whilst Tallente was trying to make up for the years of pleasant
good-fellowship which his overstudious life had cost him and to recover
touch with the friends of his earlier days, Stephen Dartrey, filled with
a queer sense of impending disaster, was climbing the steps to Nora's
flat. On the last landing he lingered for a moment and clenched his
"I am a coward," he reflected sadly. "I have asked for this and it has
He stood for a moment perfectly still, with half-closed eyes, seeking
for self-control very much in the fashion of a man who says a prayer to
himself. Then he climbed the last few stairs, rang the bell and held
out both his hands to Nora, who answered it herself.
"Commend my punctuality," he began.
"Why call attention to the one and only masculine virtue?" she replied.
"Let me take your coat."
He straightened his tie in front of the looking-glass and turned to look
at her with something like wonder in his eyes.
"Dear hostess," he exclaimed, "what has come to you?"
"An epoch of vanity," she declared, turning slowly around that he might
appreciate better the clinging folds of her new black gown. "Don't dare
to say that you don't like it, for heaven only knows what it cost me!"
"It isn't only your gown—it's your hair."
"Coiffured," she confided, "by an artist. Not an ordinary hairdresser
at all. He only works for a few of our aristocracy and one or two
leading ladies on the stage. I pulled it half down and built it up
again, but it's an improvement, isn't it?"
"It suits you," he admitted. "But—but your colour!"
"Natural—absolutely natural," she insisted. "You can wet your finger
and try if you like. It's excitement. If you look into the depths of
my wonderful eyes—I have got wonderful eyes, haven't I?"
"You will see that I am suffering from suppressed excitement. To-night
is quite an epoch. To tell you the truth, I am rather nervous about
"Is he here?"
"You shall see him presently," she promised. "Come along."
"Where is Susan?" he asked, as he followed her.
"Gone out. So has my maid. I had a fancy to turn every one else out of
the flat. Your only hot course will be from a chafing-dish. You see, I
am anxious to impress—him—with my culinary skill. I hope you will
like your dinner, but it will be rather a picnic."
Dartrey glanced back at the hall stand. There was no hat or coat there
except his own. He followed Nora into the little study, which was
separated only by a curtain from the dining room.
"I think your idea is excellent," he pronounced. "And you will forgive
me," he added, producing the parcel which he had been carrying under his
arm. "See what I have brought to drink your health and his, even if he
does not know yet the good fortune in store for him."
He set down a bottle of champagne upon the table. She laughed softly.
"You dear man!" she exclaimed. "Fancy your thinking of it! I thought
you scarcely ever touched wine?"
"I am not a crank," he replied. "Sometimes my guests have told me that
I have quite a reasonably good cellar for a man who takes so little
himself. To-night I am going to drink a glass of champagne."
"Pommery!" she exclaimed. "I hope you'll be able to open it."
"That shall be my task," he promised. "You needn't worry about
flippers. I have some in my pocket. And by the by," he added, glancing
at the clock, "where is your other guest? It is ten minutes past eight,
and I can hear your chafing-dish sizzling."
She threw back the curtain and took his arm. The table was laid for
two. He looked at it in bewilderment and then back at her.
"He has disappointed you?"
She smiled up at him.
"He has disappointed me many, many times," she said, "but not to-night."
"I don't—understand," he faltered.
"I think you do," she answered.
He took the chair opposite to hers. The chafing-dish was between them.
He was filled with a curious sense of unreality. It was a little scene,
this, out of a story or a play. It didn't actually concern him. It
wasn't Nora who sat within a few feet of him, bending down over the
chafing-dish and stirring its contents vigorously.
"Of course," she said, "I am perfectly well aware that this is an
anti-climax. I am perfectly well aware, too, that you will have a most
uncomfortable dinner. You won't know what to say to me and you'll be
dying all the time to look in your calendar and see if this is leap
year. But even we working women sometimes," she went on, smiling
bravely up at him, "have whims. I had a whim, Stephen, to let you know
that I am very stupidly fond of you, and although it isn't your fault
and I expect nothing from you except that you do not alter our
friendship, you just stand in the way whenever I think of marrying any
Perhaps because speech seemed so inadequate, Dartrey said nothing. He
sat looking at her with a queer emotion in his soft, studious eyes,
drumming a little on the table with his finger tips, not quite sure what
it meant that his heart was beating like a young man's and a queer
sensation of happiness was stealing through his whole being.
"Nothing in the world," he murmured, "could alter our friendship."
"What you see before you," she went on, "is an oyster stew. The true
hostess, you see, studying her guest's special tastes. It is very
nearly cooked and if you do not pronounce it the most delicious thing
you ever ate in your life, I shall be terribly disappointed."
Dartrey sat as still as a man upon whom some narcotic influence rested,
and his words sounded almost unnatural.
"I am convinced," he assured her, "that I shall be able to gratify you."
"What you get afterwards you see upon the sideboard: cold
partridges—both young birds though—ham, salad of my own mixing, and,
behold! my one outburst of extravagance—strawberries. There is also a
camembert cheese lying in ambush outside because of its strength. I
would suggest that during the three minutes which will ensue before I
serve you with the stew, you open the champagne. You are so dumbfounded
at my audacity that perhaps a little exercise will be good for you."
Dartrey rose to his feet, produced the corkscrew and found the cork
amenable. He filled Nora's glass and his own. Then he leaned over her
and took her hand for a moment. His face was full of kindness and he
was curiously disturbed.
"You are the dearest child on earth, Nora," he said. "I find myself
wishing from the bottom of my heart that it were possible that you could
be—something nearer and dearer to me."
She looked feverishly into his face and pushed him away.
"Go and sit down and don't be absurd," she enjoined. "Try and forget
everything else except that you are going to eat an oyster stew. That
is really the way to take life, isn't it—in cycles—and it doesn't
matter then whether one's happy times are bounded by the coming night or
the coming years. For five minutes, then, a paradise—of oyster stew."
"It is distinctly the best oyster stew I have ever tasted in my life,"
he pronounced a few minutes later.
"It is very good indeed," she assented. "Now your turn comes. Go to
the sideboard and bring me something. Remember that I am hungry and
don't forget the salad. And tell me, incidentally, whether you have
heard anything of a rumour going around about Andrew Tallente?"
He served her and himself and resumed his seat.
"A rumour?" he repeated. "No, I have heard nothing. What sort of a
"A vague but rather persistent one," she replied. "They say that it is
in the power of certain people—to drive him out of political life at
Dartrey's smile was sufficiently contemptuous but there was a note of
anxiety in his tone which he could not altogether conceal.
"These canards are very absurd, Nora," he declared. "The politician is
the natural quarry of the blackmailer, but I should think no man of my
acquaintance has lived a more blameless life than Andrew Tallente."
"I will tell you in what form the story came to me," she said. "It was
from a journalist on the staff of one of our great London dailies. The
rumour was that they had been indirectly approached to know if they
would pay a large sum for a story, perfectly printable, but which would
drive Tallente out of political life."
"Do you know the name of the newspaper?" he asked eagerly.
"I was told," Nora answered, "but under the most solemn abjuration of
secrecy. You ought to be able to guess it, though. Then a woman whom I
met in the Lyceum Chub this afternoon asked me outright if there was any
truth in certain rumours about Tallente, so people must be talking about
The cloud lingered on Dartrey's face. He ate and drank in his usual
sparing fashion, silently and apparently wrapped in thought. From the
other side of the pink-shaded lamp which stood in the middle of the
table, Nora watched him with a curious, almost a sardonic sadness in her
clear eyes. An hour ago she had looked at herself in the mirror and had
been startled at what she saw. The lines of her black gown, the most
extravagant purchase of her life, had revealed the beauty of her soft
and shapely figure. Her throat and bosom had seemed so dazzlingly
white, her hair so rich and glossy, her eyes full of the hope, the
softness, almost the anticipatory joy of the woman who has everything to
offer to the one man in her life. She had felt as she had looked:
almost a girl, with music on her lips and joyous things in her heart,
nursing that wonderful gift to her sex,—the hopeless optimism begotten
of love. And her little house of cards had tumbled so quickly to the
ground, the little denouement on which she had counted had fallen so
flat. They two were there alone. The little dinner which she had
planned was as near perfection as possible. The champagne bubbled in
their glasses. The soft light, the solitude, the stillness,—nothing
had failed her, except the man. Stephen sat within a few feet of her,
with furrowed brow and mind absorbed by a possible political problem.
Nora made coffee at the table, but they drank it seated in great easy
chairs drawn up to the fire. She passed him silently a box of his
favourite brand of cigarettes. Perhaps that evidence of her
forethought, the mute resignation of her restrained conversation with
its attempted note of cheerfulness forced its way through the chinks of
his unnatural armour. His whole face suddenly softened. He leaned
across and took her fingers into his.
"Dear Nora," he sighed, "what a brute I must seem to you and how
difficult it is for me to try and tell you all that is in my heart!"
"All tasks that are worth attempting are difficult," she murmured.
"Please go on."
"They are such simple things that I feel," he began, "simple and yet
contradictory. I should miss you more out of my life than any other
person. I shall resent from my very soul the man who takes you from me.
And yet I know what life is, dear. I know how inexorable are its
decrees. You have a fancy for me, born of kindness and sympathy,
because you know that I am a little lonely. In our thoughts, too, we
live so much in the same world. That is just one of the ironies of
life, Nora. Our thoughts can move linked together through all the
flowery and beautiful places of the world, but our bodies—alas, dear!
Do you know how old I really am?"
"I know how young you are," she answered, with a little choke in her
"I am fifty-four years old," he went on. "I am in the last lap of
physical well-being, even though my mind should continue to flourish.
And you are—how much younger! I dare not think."
"Idiot!" she exclaimed. "At fifty-four you are better and stronger than
half the men of forty."
"I have good health," he admitted, "but no constitution or manner of
living is of any account against the years. In six years' time I shall
be sixty years old."
She leaned a little towards him. Now once more the light was coming
back into her eyes. If that was the only thing with him!
"In twelve years' time from now," she said, "I, too, shall turn over a
chapter, the chapter of my youth. What is time but a relative thing?
Who shall measure your six years against my twelve? The years that
count in the life of a man or a woman are the measure of their
She glided from her chair and sank on her knees beside him. Her lips
pleaded. He took her gently, far too gently, into his arms.
"Dear Nora," he begged, "be kind to me. It is for your sake. I know
what love should mean for you, what it must mean for every sweet woman.
You see only the present. It is my hard task to look into the future
"Can't you understand," she whispered feverishly, "that I would rather
have that six years of your life, and its aftermath, than an eternity
with any other man? Bend down your head, Stephen."
Her hands were clasped around his neck, her lips forced his. For a
moment they remained so, while the room swam around her and her heart
throbbed like a mad thing. Then she slowly unlocked her arms and drew
away. As though unconscious of what she was doing, she found herself
rubbing her lips softly with her handkerchief. She threw herself back
in her chair a little recklessly.
"Very well, Stephen," she said, "you know your heart best. Drink your
coffee and I'll be sensible again directly."
To his horror she was shaken with sobs. He would have consoled her, but
she motioned him away.
"Dear Stephen," she pleaded, "I am sorry—to be such a fool—but this
thing has lived with me a long time, and—would you go away? It would
He rose to his feet, hesitated for one moment of agony, then crossed the
room with a farewell glance at the sad little feast. He closed the door
softly behind him, descended the stairs and stood for a moment in the
entrance hall, looking out upon the street. A cheerless, drizzling rain
was falling. The streets were wet and swept with a cold wind. He
looked up and down, thought out the way to his club and shivered,
thought out in misery the way back to Chelsea, the turning of his
latch-key, the darkened rooms. The house opposite was brilliantly lit
up. They seemed to be dancing there and the music of violins floated
out into the darkness. Even as he stood there, he felt the bands of
self-control weaken about him. A vision of the cold, grey days ahead
terrified him. He was pitting his brain against his heart. Lives had
been wrecked in that fashion. Philosophy, as the years creep on, is but
a dour consolation. He saw himself with the jewel of life in his hand,
prepared to cast it away. He turned around and ran up the stone steps,
light-hearted and eager as a boy. Nora heard the door open and raised
her head. On the threshold stood Stephen, transformed, rejuvenated, the
lover shining out of his eyes, the look in his face for which she had
prayed. He came towards her, speechless save for one little cry that
ended like a sob in his throat, took her into his arms tenderly but
fiercely, held her to him while the unsuspected passion of his lips
brought paradise into the room.
"You care?" she faltered. "This is not pity?"
He held her to him till she almost swooned. The restraint of so many
years was broken down.
"Must I, after all, be the teacher?" he asked passionately, as their
lips met again. "Must I show you what love is?"
Tallente was seated at breakfast a few mornings later when his wife paid
him an unexpected visit. She responded to his greeting with a cold nod,
refused the coffee which he offered her and the easy-chair which he
pushed forward to the fire.
"I got your letter, Andrew," she said, "in which you proposed to call
upon me this afternoon. I am leaving town. I am on my way back to New
York, as a matter of fact, and I shall have left the hotel by midday, so
you see I have come to visit you instead."
"It is very kind," he answered.
She shrugged her shoulders and looked disparagingly around the plainly
furnished man's sitting room.
"Not much altered here," she remarked. "It looks just as it did when I
used to come to tea with you before we were married."
"The neighbourhood is a conservative one," he replied. "Still, I must
confess that I am glad I never gave the rooms up. I don't think that
nature intended me to dwell in palaces."
"Perhaps not," she agreed, a little insolently. "It is a habit of yours
to think and live parochially. Now what did you want of me, please?"
"There is a scheme on foot," he began, "to bring about my political
"You don't mean to tell me," she exclaimed, with a sudden light in her
eyes, "that you, my well-behaved Andrew, have been playing around? You
are not going to be a corespondent or any-thing of that sort?"
"I used the word 'political,'" he reminded her coldly. "You would not
understand the situation, but its interest and my danger centres round a
certain document which was stolen from my study at Martinhoe on or just
before the day of my arrival from London last August."
"How dull!" she murmured.
"That document," he went on, "was purloined by Anthony Palliser from the
safe in my study. It was either upon him when he disappeared, or he
disposed of it on the afternoon of my arrival to a political opponent of
"I had so hoped there was a lady in the case," she yawned.
"If you will give me your attention for one moment longer," he begged,
"it will be all I ask. I want you to tell me, first of all, whether
James Miller called at the Manor that afternoon and saw Palliser,
whether any one called who might have been helping him, or—"
"Whether you have heard anything of Palliser since his disappearance?"
She looked at him hardly.
"You have brought me here to answer these questions?"
"Pardon me," he reminded her, "your coming was entirely your own idea."
"But why should you expect that I should give you information?" she
demanded. "You refused to give me the thing I wanted more than anything
in life and you have thrown me off like an old glove. If you are
threatened with what you call political ruin, why on earth should I
intervene to prevent it?"
He shrugged his shoulders.
"You take a severe and I venture to believe a prejudiced view of the
situation between us," he replied. "I never promised you that I would
make you a peeress. Such a thing never entered into my head. Every
pledge I made to you when we were married, I kept. You cannot say the
"The man's point of view, I suppose," she scoffed. "Well, I'll tell you
what I know, in exchange for a little piece of information from you,
which is—what do you know about Anthony Palliser's disappearance?"
He was silent for several moments. The frown on his forehead deepened.
"Your very question," he observed, "answers one of the queries which
have been troubling me."
"I have no objection to telling you," she said, "that since that night I
have neither seen nor heard of Palliser."
"What happened that night was simple," Tallente explained calmly;
"perhaps you would call it primitive. You left the room. I beckoned
Palliser to follow me outside. The car was still in the avenue and the
servants were taking my luggage in. The spot where we stood on the
terrace, too, was exactly underneath your window. I took him by the arm
and I led him along the little path towards the cliff. When we came to
the open space by the wall, I let him go. I asked him if he had
anything to say. He had nothing. I thrashed him."
Tallente raised his eyebrows.
"Palliser was twenty years younger than I and of at least equal build
and strength," he said. "It was not my fault that he seemed unable to
"But his disappearance—tell me about that?"
"We were within a few feet of the edge of the cliff. I struck him
harder, Perhaps, than I had intended, and he went over. I stood there
and hooked down, but I could see nothing. I heard the crashing of some
bushes, and after that—silence. I even called out to him, but there
was no reply. Some time later, Robert and I searched the cliff and the
bay below for his body. We discovered nothing."
"It was high tide that night!" she cried. "You know very well that he
must have been drowned!"
"I have answered your question," Tallente replied quietly.
There was a cold fury in her eyes. The veins seemed to stand out on her
clenched, worn hands. She looked at him with all the suppressed passion
of a creature impotent yet fiercely anxious to strike.
"I shall give information," she cried. "You shall be charged with his
Tallente shook his head.
"You will waste your time, Stella," he said. "For one thing, a woman
may not give evidence against her husband. Another thing, there cannot
very well be a charge for murder unsupported by the production of the
body. And for a third thing, I should deny the whole story."
Her fury abated, though the hate in her eyes remained.
"I think," she declared, "that you are the most coldblooded creature I
The irony of the situation gripped at him. He rose suddenly to his
feet, filled with an overwhelming desire to end it.
"Stella," he said, "to me you always seemed, especially during our last
few years together, cold and utterly indifferent. I know now that I was
mistaken. In your way you cared for Palliser. You starved me. My own
fault, you would say? Perhaps. But listen. There is a way into every
man's heart and a way into every woman's, but sometimes that way lies
hidden except to the one right person, and you weren't the right person
for me, and I wasn't the right person for you. Now answer the rest of
my question and let us part."
"Tell me," she asked, with almost insolent irony, "do you believe that
there could ever have been a right person for you?"
"My God, yes!" he answered, with a sudden fire. "I suffer the tortures
of the damned sometimes because I missed my chance! There! I'm telling
you this just so that you shall think a little differently, if you can.
You and I between us have made an infernal mess of things. It was
chiefly my fault. And as regards Palliser—well, I am sorry. Only the
fellow—he may have been lovable to you, but he was a coward and a sneak
to me—and he paid. I am sorry."
She seemed a little dazed.
"You mean to tell me, Andrew," she persisted, "that there is really some
one you care for, care for in the big way—a woman who means as much to
you as your place in Parliament—your ambition?"
"More," he declared vigorously. "There isn't a single thing I have or
ever have had in life which I wouldn't give for the chance—just a
"And she cares for you?"
"I think that she would," he answered. "She has been brought up in a
very old-fashioned school. She knows of you."
Stella smiled a little bitterly.
"Well," she said, "I suppose I am a brute, but I am glad to know that
you can suffer. I hope you will suffer; it makes you seem more human
anyhow. But in return for your confidence I will answer the other part
of your question. The man Miller was at the Manor that afternoon.
Palliser confessed to me that he had given him some important document."
"Well, sold him, then. Tony hadn't got a shilling in the world and he
would never take a halfpenny from me. He had to have money. He told me
about it that night before you came. Miller gave him five thousand
pounds for it—secret service money from one of the branches of his
party. Now you know all about it."
"Yes, I know all about it," Tallente assented, a little bitterly. "You
can take your trip to America without a single regret, Stella. I shall
certainly never be a Cabinet Minister again, much less Prime Minister of
England. Miller can use those papers to my undoing."
She shrugged her shoulders as she turned towards the door.
"You are like the fool," she said, "who tried to build the tower of his
life without cement. All very well for experiments, Andrew, when one is
young and one can rebuild, but you are a little old for that now, aren't
you, and all your brain and all your efforts, and every thought you have
been capable of since the day I met you have been given to that one
thing. You'll find it a little difficult to start all over
again.—Don't—trouble. I know the way down and I have a car waiting.
You must take up golf and make a water garden at Martinhoe. I don't
know whether you deserve that I should wish you good fortune. I can't
make up my mind. But I will—and good-by!"
She left him in the end quite suddenly. He had not even time to open
the door for her. Tallente looked out of the window and watched her
drive away. His feelings were in a curiously numb state. For Stella he
had no feeling whatever. Her confirmation of Palliser's perfidy had
awakened in him no new resentment. Only in a vague way he began to
realise that his forebodings of the last few days were founded upon a
reality. Whether Palliser lived or was dead, it was too late for him to
undo the mischief he had done.
Tallente took up the receiver and asked for Dartrey's number. In half
an hour he was on his way to see him.
Tallente had the surprise of his life when he was shown into Dartrey's
little dining room. A late breakfast was still upon the table and Nora
was seated behind the coffee pot. She took prompt pity upon his
"You've surprised our secret," she exclaimed, "but anyhow, Stephen was
going to tell you to-day. We were married the day before yesterday."
"That is why I played truant," Dartrey put in, "although we only went as
far as Tunbridge Wells."
Tallente held out a hand to each. For a moment the tragedy in his own
life was forgotten.
"I can't wish you happiness, because you have found it," he said. "Wise
and wonderful people! Let me see if your coffee is what I should
expect, Nora," he went on. "To tell you the truth, I have had rather a
"So have we," Dartrey observed. "You mean the Leeds figures, of
Tallente shook his head.
"I haven't even opened a newspaper."
"Horlock went down himself yesterday to speak for his candidate. Our
man is in by five thousand, seven hundred votes."
"Amazing!" Tallente murmured.
"It is the greatest reversal of figures in political history," Dartrey
declared. "Listen, Tallente. I was quite prepared to go the Session,
as you know, but Horlock's had enough. He is asking for a vote of
confidence on Tuesday. He'll lose by at least sixty votes."
"We can't put it off any longer. We shall have to take office. I shall
be sent for as the nominal leader of the party and I shall pass the
summons on to you. Here is a list of names. Some of them we ought to
see unofficially at once."
Tallente looked down the slip of paper. He came to a dead stop with his
finger upon Miller's name.
"I know," Dartrey said sympathetically, "but, Tallente, you must
remember that men are not made all in the same mould, and Miller is the
link between us and a great many of the most earnest disciples of our
faith. In politics a man has sometimes to be accepted not so much for
what he is as for the power which he represents."
"Has he agreed to serve under me?" Tallente inquired.
"We have never directly discussed the subject," Dartrey replied. "He
posed rather as the ambassador when we came to you at Martinhoe, but as
a matter of fact, if it interests you to know it, he was strongly
opposed to my invitation to you. I am expecting him here every
moment—in fact, he telephoned that he was on the way an hour ago."
Miller arrived, a few minutes later, with the air of one already
cultivating an official gravity. He was dressed in his own conception
of morning clothes, which fitted him nowhere, linen which confessed to a
former day's service and a brown Homburg hat. It was noticeable that
whilst he was almost fulsome in his congratulations to Nora and
overcordial to Dartrey, he scarcely glanced at Tallente and confined
himself to a nod by way of greeting.
"Couldn't believe it when you told me over the telephone," he said. "I
congratulate you both heartily. What about Leeds, Dartrey?"
"It's the end, I suppose?"
"Absolutely! That is why I telephoned for you. Horlock is quite
resigned. I understand that they will send for me, but I wish to tell
you, Miller, as I have just told Tallente, that I have finally made up
my mind that it would not be in the best interests of our party for me
to attempt to form a Ministry myself. I am therefore passing the task
on to Tallente. Here is a list of what we propose."
Miller clenched the sheet of paper in his hand without glancing at it.
His tone was bellicose.
"Do I understand that Tallente is to be Prime Minister?"
"Certainly! You see I have put you down for the Home Office, Sargent as
Chancellor of the Exchequer, Saunderson—"
"I don't want to hear any more," Miller interrupted. "It's time we had
this out. I object to Tallente being placed at the head of the party."
"And why?" Dartrey asked coldly.
"Because he is a newcomer and has done nothing to earn such a position,"
Miller declared; "because he has come to us as an opportunist, because
there are others who have served the cause of the people for all the
years of their life, who have a better claim; and because at heart, mind
you, Dartrey, he isn't a people's man."
"What do you mean by saying that I am not a people's man?" Tallente
"Just what the words indicate," was the almost fierce reply. "You're
Eton and Oxford, not board-school and apprentice. Your brain brings you
to the cause of the people, not your heart. You aren't one of us and
never could be. You're an aristocrat, and before we knew where we were,
you'd be legislating for aristocrats. You'd try and sneak them into
your Cabinet. It's their atmosphere you've been brought up in. It's
with them you want to live. That's what I mean when I say that you're
not a people's man, Tallente, and I defy any one to say that you are."
"Miller," Dartrey intervened earnestly, "you are expounding a case from
the narrowest point of view. You say that Tallente was born an
aristocrat. That may or may not be true, but surely it makes his
espousal of the people's cause all the more honest and convincing? For
you to say that he is not a people's man, you who have heard his
speeches in the house, who have read his pamphlets, who have followed,
as you must have followed, his political career is sheer folly."
"Then I am content to remain a fool," Miller rejoined. "Once and for
all, I decline to serve under Tallente, and I warn you that if you put
him forward, if you go so far, even, as to give him a seat in the
Cabinet of the Government it is your job to form, you will disunite the
party and bring calamity upon us."
"Have you any further reason for your attitude," Tallente asked
pointedly, "except those you have put forward?"
Miller met his questioner's earnest gaze defiantly.
"I have," he admitted.
"State it now, then, please."
Miller rose to his feet. He became a little oratorical, more than
"I make my appeal to you, Dartrey," he said. "You have put forward this
man as your choice of a leader of the great Democratic Party, the party
which is to combine all branches of Labour, the party which is to stand
for the people. I charge him with having written in the last year of
the war a scathing attack upon the greatest of British institutions, the
trades unions, an article written from the extreme aristocratic
standpoint, an article which, if published to-day and distributed
broadcast amongst the miners and operatives of the north, would result
in a revolution if his name were persisted in."
"I have read everything Tallente has ever written, and I have never come
across any such article," Dartrey declared promptly.
"You have never come across it because it was never published," Miller
continued, "and yet the fact remains that it was written and offered to
the Universal Review. It was actually in type and was only held back at
the earnest request of the Government, because on the very day that it
should have appeared, an armistice was concluded between the railway
men, the miners and the War Council, and the Government was terrified
lest anything should happen to upset that armistice."
"Is this true, Tallente?" Dartrey asked anxiously.
"Perfectly. I admit the existence of the article and I admit that it
was written with all the vigour I could command, on the lines quoted by
Miller. Since, however, it was never published, it can surely be
treated as nonexistent?"
"That is just what it cannot be," Miller declared. "The signed
manuscript of that article is in the hands of those who would rather see
it published than have Tallente Prime Minister."
"Blackmail," the latter remarked quietly.
"You can call it what you please," was the sneering reply. "The facts
are as I have stated them."
"But what in the world could have induced you to write such an article,
Tallente?" Dartrey demanded. "Your attitude towards Labour, even when
you were in the Coalition Cabinet, was perfectly sound."
"It was more than sound, it was sympathetic," Tallente insisted. "That
is why I worked myself into the state of indignation which induced me to
write it. I will not defend it. It is sufficient to remind you both
that when we were hard pressed, when England really had her back to the
wall, when coal was the very blood of life to her, a strike was declared
in South Wales and received the open sympathy of the faction with which
this man Miller here is associated. Miller has spoken plainly about me.
Let him hear what I have to say about him. He went down to South Wales
to visit these miners and he encouraged them in a course of action
which, if other industries had followed suit, would have brought this
country into slavery and disgrace. And furthermore, let me remind you
of this, Dartrey. It was Miller's branch of the Labour Party who sent
him to Switzerland to confer with enemy Socialists and for the last
eighteen months of the war he practically lived under the espionage of
our secret service—a suspected traitor."
"It's a lie!" Miller fumed.
"It is the truth and easily proved," Tallente retorted. "When peace
came, however, Miller's party altered their tactics and the hatchet was
to have been buried. My article was directed against the trades unions
as they were at that time, not as they are to-day, and I still claim
that if public opinion had not driven them into an arrangement with the
Government, my article would have been published and would have done
good. To publish it now could answer no useful purpose. Its
application is gone and the conditions which prompted its tone
"I am beginning to understand," Dartrey admitted. "Tell me, how did the
manuscript ever leave your possession, Tallente?"
"I will tell you," Tallente replied, pointing over at Miller. "Because
that man paid Palliser, my secretary, five thousand pounds out of his
secret service money to obtain possession of it."
Miller was plainly discomfited.
"Who told you that lie?" he faltered.
"It's no lie—it's the truth," Tallente rejoined. "You used five
thousand pounds of secret service money to gratify a private spite."
"That's false, anyhow," Miller retorted. "I have no personal spite
against you, Tallente. I look upon you as a dangerous man in our party,
and if I have sought for means to remove you from it, it has been not
from personal feeling, but for the good of the cause."
"There stands your leader," Tallente continued. "Did you consult him
before you bribed my secretary and hawked about that article, first to
Horlock and now to heaven knows whom?"
"It is the first I have heard of it," Dartrey said sternly.
"Just so. It goes to prove what I have declared before—that Miller's
attack upon me is a personal one."
"And I deny it," Miller exclaimed fiercely. "I don't like you,
Tallente, I hate your class and I distrust your presence in the ranks of
the Democratic Party. Against your leadership I shall fight tooth and
nail. Dartrey," he went on, "you cannot give Tallente supreme control
over us. You will only court disaster, because that article will surely
appear and the whole position will be made ridiculous. I am strong
enough—that is to say, those who are behind me will take my word on
trust—to wreck the position on Thursday. I can keep ninety Labour men
out of the Lobby and the Government will carry their vote of confidence.
In that case, our coming into power may be delayed for years. We shall
lose the great opportunity of this century. Tallente is your friend,
Dartrey, but the cause comes first. I shall leave the decision with
Miller took his departure with a smile of evil triumph upon his thin
lips. He had his moment of discomfiture, however, when Dartrey coldly
ignored his extended hand. The two men left behind heard the door slam.
"This is the devil of a business, Tallente!" Dartrey said grimly.
Nora returned to the room as Miller left.
"I don't know whether you wanted me to go," she said to Dartrey, "but I
cannot sit and listen to that man talk. I try to keep myself free from
prejudices, but there are exceptions. Miller is my pet one. Tell me
exactly what he came about? Something disagreeable, I am sure?"
They told her, but she declined to take the matter seriously.
"A position like this is necessarily disagreeable," she argued, "but I
have confidence in Mr. Tallente. Remember, this article was written
nine years ago, Stephen, and though for twenty-four hours it may make
things unpleasant, I feel sure that it won't do nearly the harm you
imagine. And think what a confession to make! That man, who aims at
being a Cabinet Minister, sits here in this room and admits that he
bribed Mr. Tallente's secretary with five thousand pounds to steal the
manuscript out of his safe. How do you think that will go down with the
"A certain portion of the public, I am afraid," Tallente said gravely,
"will say that I discovered the theft—and killed Palliser."
"Killed Palliser!" Nora repeated incredulously. "I never heard such
"Palliser certainly disappeared on the evening of the day when he parted
with the manuscript to Miller," Tallente went on, "and has never been
seen or heard of since."
"But there must be some explanation of that," Dartrey observed.
There was a short silence, significant of a curious change in the
atmosphere. Tallente's silence grew to possess a queer significance.
The ghost of rumours to which neither had ever listened suddenly forced
its way back into the minds of the other two. Dartrey was the first to
"Tallente," he said, "as a private person I have no desire to ask you a
single question concerned with your private life, but we have come to
something of a crisis. It is necessary that I should know the worst.
Is there anything else Miller could bring up against you?"
"To the best of my belief, nothing," Tallente replied calmly
"That is not sufficient," Dartrey persisted. "Have you any knowledge,
Tallente, which the world does not share, of the disappearance of this
man Palliser? It is inevitable that if you discovered his treachery
there should have been hard words. Did you have any scene with him? Do
you know more of his disappearance than the world knows?"
"I do," Tallente replied. "You shall share that knowledge with me to a
certain extent. I had another cause for quarrel with Palliser to which
I do not choose to refer, but on my arrival home that night I summoned
him from the house and led him to an open space. I admit that I chose a
primitive method of inflicting punishment upon a traitor. I intended to
thrash Palliser, a course of action in which I ask you, Dartrey, to
believe, as a man of honour, I was justified. I struck too hard and
Palliser went over the cliff."
Neither Nora nor Dartrey seemed capable of speech. Tallente's cool,
precise manner of telling his story seemed to have an almost paralysing
effect upon them.
"Afterwards," Tallente continued, "I discovered the theft of that
document. A faithful servant of mine, and I, searched for Palliser's
body, risking our lives in vain, as it turns out, in the hope of
recovering the manuscript. The body was neither in the bay below nor
hung up anywhere on the cliff. One of two things, then, must have
happened. Either Palliser's body must have been taken out by the tide,
which flows down the Bristol Channel in a curious way, and will never
now be recovered, or he made a remarkable escape and decided, under all
the circumstances, to make a fresh start in life."
Nora came suddenly over to Tallente's side. She took his arm and
somehow or other the strained look seemed to pass from his face.
"Dear friend," she said, "this is very painful for you, I know, but your
other cause of quarrel with Palliser—you will forgive me if I ask—was
it about your wife?"
"It was," Tallente replied. "You are just the one person in the world,
Nora, in whom I am glad to confide to that extent."
She turned to Dartrey.
"Stephen," she said, "either Palliser is dead and his death can be
brought to no one's door, or he is lying hidden and there is no one to
blame. You can wipe that out of your mind, can you not? All that we
shall have to consider now is the real effect upon the members of our
party as a whole, if this article is published."
"Have you a copy of it?" Dartrey asked.
Tallente shook his head.
"I haven't, but if a certain suspicion I have formed is true, I might be
able to get you one. In any case, Dartrey, don't come to any decision
for a day or two. If it is for the good of the party for you to throw
me overboard, you must do it, and I can assure you I'll take the plunge
willingly. On the other hand, if you want me to fight, I'll fight."
"It is extraordinary," he said, "how one realises more and more, as time
goes on, how inhuman politics really are. The greatest principle in
life, the principle of sticking to one's friends, has to be discarded.
I shall take you at your word, Tallente. I am going to consider only
what I think would be best for the welfare of the Democratic Party and
in the meantime we'll just go on as though nothing had happened."
"If Horlock approaches me," Tallente began—
"He can go out either on a vote of confidence or on an adverse vote on
any of the three Bills next week," Dartrey said. "We don't want to
drive them out like a flock of sheep. They can go out waving banners
and blowing tin horns, if they like, but they're going. It's time the
country was governed, and the country, after all, is the only thing that
counts.—I am sorry to send you back to work, Tallente, in such a state
of uncertainty, but I know it will make no difference to you. Strike
where you can and strike hard. Our day is coming and I tell you
honestly I can't believe—nothing would make me believe—that you won't
be in at the death."
"Don't forget that we meet to-night in Charles Street," Tallente
reminded them, as he shook hands.
"Trust Nora," Dartrey replied. "She has been looking forward to it
"I now," Tallente said, as he took up his hat and stick, "am going to
confront an editor."
"You are going to try and get me a copy of the article?"
"I am going to try. If my suspicions are correct, you shall have it in
Tallente, however, spent a somewhat profitless morning, and it was only
by chance in the end that he succeeded in his quest. He strolled into
the lounge at the Sheridan Club to find the man he sought the centre of
a little group. Greetings were exchanged, cocktails drunk, and as soon
as an opportunity occurred Tallente drew his quarry on one side.
"Greening," he said, "if you are not in a hurry, could I have a word
with you before lunch?"
"By all means," the other replied. "We'll go into the smoking room."
They strolled off together, followed by more than one pair of curious
eyes. An interview between the editor of the daily journal having the
largest circulation in Great Britain and Tallente, possible dictator of
a new party in politics, was not without its dramatic interest.
Tallente wasted no words as soon as they had entered the smoking room
and found it empty.
"Do you mind talking shop, Greening?" he asked. "I've been down to your
place twice this morning, but couldn't find you."
"Go ahead," the other invited. "I had to go round to Downing Street and
then on to see the chief. Sorry you had a fruitless journey."
"I will be quite frank with you," Tallente went on. "What I am going to
suggest to you is pure guesswork. A political opponent, if I can
dignify the fellow with such a term, has in his possession an article of
mine which I wrote some years ago, during the war. I have been given to
understand that he means to obtain publication of it for the purpose of
undermining my position with the Labour Party. Has he brought it to
"He has," Greening answered briefly.
"Are you going to use it?"
"We are. The article is in type now. It won't be out for a day or two.
When it does, we look upon it as the biggest political scoop of this
"I protest to you formally," Tallente said, "against the publication by
a respectable journal of a stolen document."
Greening shook his head.
"Won't do, Tallente," he replied. "We have had a meeting and decided to
publish. The best I can do for you is to promise that we will publish
unabridged any comments you may have to make upon the matter, on the
"I have always understood that there is such a thing as a journalistic
conscience," Tallente persisted. "Can you tell me what possible
justification you can find for making use of stolen material?"
"The journalistic conscience is permitted some latitude in these
matters," Greening answered drily. "We are not publishing for the sake
of any pecuniary benefit or even for the kudos of a scoop. We are
publishing because we want to do our best to drive you out from amongst
"Did Horlock send Miller to you?" Tallente enquired.
Greening shook his head once more.
"I cannot answer that sort of question. I will say as much as this in
our justification. We stand for sane politics and your defection from
the ranks of sane politicians has been very seriously felt. We look
upon this opportunity of weakening your present position with the
Democratic Party as a matter of political necessity. Personally, I am
very sorry, Tallente, to do an unfriendly action, but I can only say,
like the school-master before he canes a refractory pupil, that it is
for your own good."
"I should prefer to remain the arbiter of my own destiny," Tallente
observed drily. "I suppose you fully understand that that noxious
person, Miller, paid my defaulting secretary five thousand pounds for
"My dear fellow, if your pocket had been picked in the street of that
manuscript and it had been brought to us, we should still have used it,"
was the frank reply.
Tallente stared gloomily out of the window.
"Then I suppose there is nothing more to be said," he wound up.
"Nothing! Sorry, Tallente, but the chief is absolutely firm. He looks
upon you as the monkey pulling the chestnuts out of the fire for the
Labour Party and he has made up his mind to singe your paws."
"The Democrats will rule this country before many years have passed,"
Tallente said earnestly, "whether your chief likes it or not. Isn't it
better to have a reasonable and moderate man like myself of influence in
their councils than to have to deal with Miller and his lot?"
Greening shrugged his shoulders and glanced at the clock.
"Orders are orders," he declared, "and even if I disbelieved in the
policy of the paper, I couldn't afford to disobey. Come and lunch,
"Can I have a proof of the article?"
"By all means," was the prompt reply. "Shall I send it to your rooms or
"Send it direct to Stephen Dartrey at the House of Commons."
"I see," Greening murmured thoughtfully, "and then a council of war, eh?
Don't forget our promise, Tallente. We'll publish your counterblast,
whatever the consequences."
"It isn't decided yet," he said, as they made their way towards the
luncheon room, "whether there is to be a counterblast."
"We have achieved a triumph," Jane declared, when the last of the
servants had disappeared and the little party of four were left to their
own devices. "We have sat through the whole of dinner and not once
"You made us forget them," Tallente murmured.
"A left-handed compliment," Jane laughed. "You should pay your tribute
to my cook. Mr. Dartrey, I have told you all about my farms and your
wife has explained all that I could not understand of her last article
in the National. Now I am going to seek for further enlightenment.
Tell my why the publication of an article written years ago is likely to
affect Mr. Tallente's present position so much?"
"Because," Dartrey explained, "it is an attack upon the most sensitive,
the most difficult, and the section of our party furthest removed from
us—the great trades unions. Some years ago, Lady Jane, since the war,
one of our shrewdest thinkers declared that the greatest danger
overshadowing this country was the power wielded by the representatives
of these various unions, a power which amounted almost to a
dictatorship. We have drawn them into our party through detaching the
units. We have never been able to capture them as a whole. Even to-day
their leaders are in a curiously anomalous position. They see their
power going in the dawn of a more socialistic age. They cannot refuse
to accept our principles but in their hearts they know that our triumph
sounds the death knell to their power. This article of Tallente's would
give them a wonderful chance. Out of very desperation they will seize
"Have you read the article?" Jane enquired.
"This evening, just before I came," Dartrey replied gravely.
"I can understand," Tallente intervened, "that you feel bound to take
this seriously, Dartrey, but after all there is nothing traitorous to
our cause in what I wrote. I attacked the trades unions for their
colossal and fiendish selfishness when the Empire was tottering. I
would do it again under the same circumstances. Remember I was fresh
from Ypres. I had seen Englishmen, not soldiers but just hastily
trained citizens—bakers, commercial travellers, clerks, small
tradesmen—butchered like rabbits but fighting for their country, dying
for it—and all the time those blackguardly stump orators at home turned
their backs to France and thought the time opportune to wrangle for a
rise in wages and bring the country to the very verge of a universal
strike. It didn't come off, I know, but there were very few people who
really understood how near we were to it. Dartrey, we sacrifice too
much of our real feelings to political necessity. I won't apologize for
my article; I'll defend it."
"It will be a difficult task, Tallente. The spirit has gone. People
have forgotten already the danger which we so narrowly escaped—forgotten
before the grass has grown on the graves of our saviours."
"Still, you wouldn't have Mr. Tallente give in without a struggle?"
"I hope that Tallente will fight," Dartrey replied, "but I must warn
you, Lady Jane, that I am the guardian of a cause, and for that reason
I am an opportunist. If the division of our party which consists of the
trades unionists refuses to listen to any explanation and threatens
severance if Tallente remains, then he will have to go."
"So far as your personal view is concerned," Tallente asked, "you could
do without Miller, couldn't you?"
"I could thrive without him," Dartrey declared heartily.
"Then you shall," Tallente asserted. "We'll show the world what his
local trades unionism stands for. He has belittled the whole principle
of cooperation. He twangs all the time one brazen chord instead of
seeking to give expression to the clear voices of the millions. Miller
would impoverish the country with his accursed limited production, his
threatened strikes, his parochial outlook. Englishmen are brimful of
common sense, Dartrey, if you know where to dig for it. We'll
materialise your own dream. We'll bring the principles of socialism
into our human and daily life and those octopus trades unions shall feel
Jane laid her hand for a moment upon his arm.
"Why aren't you oftener enthusiastic?"
He glanced at her swiftly. Their eyes met. Fearlessly she held his
fingers for a moment,—a long, wonderful moment.
"I was getting past enthusiasms," he said; "I was dropping into the
dry-as-dust school—the argumentative, logical, cold, ineffectual
school. The last few months have changed that. I feel young again. If
Dartrey will give me a free hand, I'll deliver up to him Miller's
Dartrey had come to the dinner in an uncertain frame of mind. No one
knew better than he the sinister power behind Miller. Yet before
Tallente had finished speaking he had made up his mind.
"I'll stand by you, Tallente," he declared, "even if it puts us back a
year or so. Miller carries with him always an atmosphere of unwholesome
things. He has got the Bolshevist filth in his blood and I don't trust
him. No one trusts him. He shall take his following where he will, and
if we are not strong enough to rule without them, we'll wait."
It was a compact of curious importance which the two men sealed
impulsively with a grip of the hands across the table, and down at
Woolhanger, through some dreary months, it was Jane's greatest pleasure
to remember that it was at her table it had been made.
Tallente, seeking about for some excuse to remain for a few moments
after the departure of the Dartreys, was relieved of all anxiety by
Jane's calm and dignified remark.
"I can't part with you just yet, Mr. Tallente," she said. "You are not
in a hurry, I hope, and you are so close to your rooms that the matter
of taxies need not worry you. And, Mr. Dartrey, next time you come
down to my county you must bring your wife over to see me. Woolhanger
is so typically Devonshire, I really think you would be interested."
"I shall make Stephen bring me in the spring," Nora promised. "I shall
never forget how fascinated we were with the whole place this last
summer. Don't forget that you are coming to the House with me tomorrow
"I am looking forward to it," she declared. "The only annoying part is
that that stupid man won't promise to speak."
"I shall have so much to say within the next week or so," Tallente
observed, a little grimly, "that I think I had better keep quiet as long
as I can."
The moment for which Tallente had been longing came then. The front
door closed behind the departing guests. Jane motioned to him to come
and sit by her side on the couch.
"I love your friends," she said. "I think Mrs. Dartrey is perfectly
sweet and Dartrey is just as wonderful as I had pictured him. They are
so strangely unusual," she went on. "I can scarcely believe, even now,
that our dinner actually took place in my little room here—Stephen
Dartrey, the man I have read about all my life, and this brilliant young
wife of his. Thank you so much, dear friend, for bringing them."
"And thank you, dear perfect hostess," he answered. "Do you know what
you did? You created an atmosphere in which it was possible to think
and talk and see things clearly. Do you realise what has happened?
Dartrey has done a great thing. He has thrown over the one menacing
power in the advancing cause of the people. He is going to back me
"What exactly is Miller's position?" she asked.
"Let me tell you another time," he begged. "I have looked forward so to
these few minutes with you. Tell me how much time you are going to
spare me this next week?"
She looked at him with the slight, indulgent smile of a woman realising
and glad to realise her power. To Tallente she had never seemed more
utterly and entirely desirable. It was not for him to know that a
French modiste had woven all the cunning and diablerie of the sex lure
into the elegant shape, the apparent simplicity of the black velvet
which draped her limbs. In some mysterious way, the same spirit seemed
to have entered into Jane herself. The evening had been one of
unalloyed pleasure. She felt the charm of her companion more than ever
before. The pleasant light in her eyes, the courteous, half-mocking
phrases with which, as a rule, she fenced herself about in those moments
when he sought to draw her closer to him, were gone. Her eyes were as
bright as ever, but softer. Her mouth was firm, yet somehow with a
faint, womanly voluptuousness in its sweet curves. The fingers which
lay unresistingly in his hand were soft and warm.
"As much time as you can spare," she promised him. "I thought, though,
that you would be busy tearing Miller bone from bone."
"The game of politics is played slowly," he answered, "sometimes so
slowly that one chafes. Dear Jane, I want to see you all the time. So
much of what is best in me, best and most effective, comes from you."
"If I can help, I am proud," she whispered.
"You help more than you will ever know, more than my lips can tell you.
It is you who have lit the lamp again in my life, you from whom come the
fire and strength which make me feel that I shall triumph, that I shall
achieve the one thing I have set my heart upon."
"The one thing?" she murmured rashly.
"The one thing outside," he answered, "the desire of my brain. The
desire of my heart is here."
She lay in his arms, her lips moved to his and the moments passed
uncounted. Then, with a queer little cry, she stood up, covered her
face for a moment with her hands and then held them both out to him.
"Dear man," she begged, "dearest of all men—will you go now?
To-morrow—whenever you have time—let your servant ring up. I will
free myself from any engagement—but please!"
He kissed her fingers and passed out with a murmured word. He knew so
little of women and yet some wonderful instinct kept him always in the
right path. Perhaps, too, he feared speech himself, lest the ecstasy of
those few moments might be broken.
This is how a weekly paper of indifferent reputation but immense
circulation brought Tallente's love affair to a crisis. In a column
purporting to set out the editor's curiosity upon certain subjects, the
following paragraphs appeared:
Whether a distinguished member of the Democratic Party is not considered
just now the luckiest man in the world of politics and love.
Whether the young lady really enjoys playing the prodigal daughter at
home and in the country, and what her noble relatives have to say about
Whether there are not some sinister rumours going about concerning the
politician in question.
Jane's mother, who had arrived in London only the day before, was in
Charles Street before her prodigal daughter had finished breakfast. She
brandished a copy of the paper in her hand. Jane read the three
paragraphs and let the paper slip from her fingers as though she had
been handling an unclean thing. She rang the bell and pointed to where
it lay upon the floor.
"Take that into the servants' hall and let it be destroyed, Parkins,"
The Duchess held her peace until the man had left the room. Then she
turned resolutely to Jane.
"My dear," she said, "that's posing. Besides, it's indiscreet. Parkins
will read it, of course, and it's what that sort of person reads,
nowadays, that counts. We can't afford it. The aristocracy has had its
fling. To-day we are on our good behaviour."
"I should have thought," Jane declared, "that in these democratic days
the best thing we could do would be to prove ourselves human like other
"And people call you clever!" her mother scoffed. "Why, my dear child,
any slight respect which we still receive from the lower orders is based
upon their conviction that somehow or other we are, after all, made
differently from them. Sometimes they hate us for it and sometimes they
love us for it. The great thing, nowadays, however, is to cultivate and
try and strengthen that belief of theirs."
"How did you come to see this rag?" Jane enquired mildly.
"Your Aunt Somerham brought it round this morning while I was in bed,"
her mother replied. "It was a great shock to me. Also to your father.
He was anxious to come with me but is threatened with an attack of
"And what do you want to say to me about it? Just why did you bring me
that rag and show me those paragraphs?"
"My dear, I must know how much truth there is in them. Have you been
going about with this man Tallente?"
"To a certain extent, yes," Jane admitted, after a moment's hesitation.
"Pooh! You know I finished with all that sort of rubbish years ago,
"I am informed that Mr. Tallente is a married man."
Jane flinched a little for the first time.
"All the world knows that," she answered. "He married an American, one
of William Hunter's daughters."
"Who has now, I understand, left him?" Lady Jane shrugged her shoulders.
"I do not discuss Mr. Tallente's matrimonial affairs with him."
"Surely," her mother remarked acidly, "in view of your growing intimacy
they are of some interest to you both?"
Jane was silent for a moment.
"Just what have you come to say, mother?" she asked, looking up at her,
clear-eyed and composed. "Better let's get it over."
The Duchess cleared her throat.
"Jane," she said, "we have become reconciled, your father and I, against
our wills, to your strange political views and the isolation in which
you choose to live, but when your eccentricities lead you to a course of
action which makes you the target for scandal, your family protests. I
have come to beg that this intimacy of yours with Mr. Tallente should
"Mother," Jane replied, "for years after I left the schoolroom I
subjected myself to your guidance in these matters. I went through
three London seasons and made myself as agreeable as possible to
whatever you brought along and called a man. At the end of that time I
revolted. I am still in revolt. Mr. Tallente interests me more than
any man I know and I shall not give up my friendship with him."
"Your aunt tells me that Colonel Fosbrook wants to marry you."
"He has mentioned the fact continually," Jane assented. "Colonel
Fosbrook is a very pleasant person who does not appeal to me in the
slightest as a husband."
"The Fosbrooks are one of our oldest families," the Duchess said
severely. "Arnold Fosbrook is very wealthy and the connection would be
most desirable. You are twenty-nine years old, Jane, and you ought to
marry. You ought to have children and bring them up to defend the order
in which you were born."
"Mother dear," Jane declared, smiling, "this conversation had better
cease. Thanks to dear Aunt Jane, I have an independent fortune,
Woolhanger, and my little house here. I have adopted an independent
manner of life and I have not the least idea of changing it. You have
three other daughters and they have all married to your complete
satisfaction. I don't think that I shall ever be a very black sheep but
you must look upon me as outside the fold.—I hope you will stay to
lunch. Colonel Fosbrook is bringing his sister and the Princess is
The Duchess rose to her feet. The family dignity justified itself in
her cold withdrawal.
"Thank you, Jane," she said, "I am engaged. I am glad to know, however,
that you still have one or two respectable friends."
The setting was the same only the atmosphere seemed somehow changed when
Jane received her second visitor that day. She was waiting for him in
the small sitting room into which no other visitor save members of the
family were ever invited. There was a comfortable fire burning, the
roses which had come from him a few hours before were everywhere
displayed, and Jane herself, in a soft brown velvet gown, rose to her
feet, comely and graceful, to welcome him.
"So we are immortalised!" she exclaimed, smiling.
"That wretched rag!" he replied. "I was hoping you wouldn't see it."
"Mother was here with a copy before eleven o'clock."
Tallente made a grimace.
"Have you sworn to abjure me and all my works?"
"So much so," she told him, "that I have been here waiting for you for
at least half an hour and I have put on the gown you said you liked
best. Some one said in a book I was reading last week that affection
was proved only by trifles. I have certainly never before in my life
altered my scheme of clothes to please any man."
He raised her fingers to his lips.
"You are exercising," he said, "the most wonderful gift of your sex.
You are providing an oasis—more than that, a paradise—for a
disheartened toiler. It seems that I have enemies whose very existence
I never guessed at."
"Well, does that matter very much?" she asked cheerfully. "It was one
of your late party, wasn't it, who said that the making of enemies was
the only reward of political success?"
"A cheap enough saying," Tallente sighed, "yet with the germs of truth
in it. I don't mind the allusion to a sinister rumour. The air will be
thick with them before long. The other—well, it's beneath criticism
but it hurts."
She laughed whole-heartedly.
"Andrew," she said, "for the first time in my life I am ashamed of you.
Here am I, hidebound in conventions, and I could just summon indignation
enough to send the paper down to the kitchen to be burnt. Since then I
have not even thought of it. I was far more angry that any one should
anticipate the troubles which you have to face. Come and sit down."
She led him to the couch and held his fingers in hers as she leaned back
in a corner.
"I honestly believe," she went on gently, "that the world is not
sufficiently grateful to those who toil for her. Criticism has become a
habit of life. Nobody believes or wants to believe in the altruist any
longer. I believe that if to-day a rich man stripped himself of all his
possessions and obeyed the doctrines of the Bible by giving them to the
poor, the Daily something or other would worry around until they found
some interested motive, and the Daily something or other else would
succeed in proving the man a hypocrite."
He smiled and in the lightening of his face she appreciated for the
first time a certain strained look about his eyes and the drawn look
about the mouth.
"You are worrying about all this!" she exclaimed.
"Yes, in a way I am worrying," he confessed simply. "Not about the
storm itself. I am ready to face that and I think I shall be a stronger
and a saner man when the battle has started. In the meantime, I think
that what has happened to me is this. I have arrived just at that time
of life when a man takes stock of himself and his doings, criticises his
own past and wonders whether the things he has proposed doing in the
future are worth while."
"You of all men in the world need never ask yourself that," she declared
warmly. "Think of your lifelong devotion to your work. Think of the
idlers by whom you are surrounded."
"I work," he admitted, "but I sometimes ask myself whether I work with
the same motives as I did when I was young. I started life as an
altruist. I am not sure now whether I am not working in self-defence,
from habit, because I am afraid of falling behind."
"You mean that you have lost your ideals?"
"I wonder," he speculated, "whether any man can carry them through to my
age and not be afflicted with doubts as to whether, after all, he has
been on the right path, whether he may not have been worshipping false
"Tell me exactly how you started life," she begged.
"Like any other third or fourth son of a bankrupt baronet," he replied.
"I went to Eaton and Oxford with the knowledge that I had to carve out
my own career and my ambitions when I left the University were entirely
personal. I chose diplomacy. I did moderately well, I believe. I remember
my first really confidential mission," he went on, with a faint smile,
"brought me to Paris, where we met.—Then came Parliament—afterwards
the war and a revolution in all my ideas. I suddenly saw the strength
and power of England and realised whence it came. I realised that it
was our democracy which was the backbone of the country. I realised the
injustice of those centuries of class government. I plunged into my old
socialistic studies, which I had taken up at Oxford more out of caprice
than anything, and I began to have a vision of what I have always since
looked upon as the truth. I began to realise that there was some
super-divine truth in the equality of all humans, notwithstanding the
cheap arguments against it; that by steady and broad-minded government
for a generation or so, human beings would be born into the world under
more level conditions; and with the fading away of class would be born
or rather generated the real and wonderful spirit of freedom. My
parliamentary career progressed by leaps and bounds, but when in '15 the
war began to go against us, I turned soldier."
"You don't need to tell me anything about that part of your career," she
interrupted, with a little smile almost of proprietory pride. "I never
"When I came back," he continued, "I was almost a fanatic. I worked not
from the ranks of the Labour Party itself, because I flatter myself that
I was clear-sighted enough to see that the Labour Party as it existed
after the war, split up by factions, devoted to the selfish interests of
the great trades unions and with the taint of Miller retarding all
progress, had nothing in it of the real spirit of freedom. It was every
man for his own betterment and the world in which he lived might go
hang. I stayed with the Coalitionists, though I was often a thorn in
their side, but because I was also useful to them I bent them often
towards the light. Then they began to fear me, or rather my principles.
It was out of my principles, although I was not nominally one of them,
that Dartrey admits freely to-day he built up the Democratic Party. He
had been working on the same lines for years, a little too much from the
idealistic point of view. He needed the formula. I gave it to him.
Horlock came into office again and I worked with him for a time.
Gradually, however, my position became more and more difficult. In the
end he offered me a post in the Cabinet, induced me to resign my own
seat, which I admit was a doubtful one, and sent me to fight
Hellesfield, which it was never intended that I should win. Then Miller
dug his own grave. He opposed me there and I lost the seat. Horlock
was politely regretful, scarcely saw what could be done for me at the
moment, was disposed to join in a paltry little domestic plot to send
me to the Lords. This was at the time I came down to Martinhoe, the
time, except for those brief moments in Paris, when I first met you."
"Pruning roses in a shockingly bad suit of clothes," she murmured.
"And taken for my own gardener! Well, then came Dartrey's visit. He
laid his programme before me, offered me a seat and I agreed to lead the
Democrats in the House. There I think I have been useful. I knew the
game, which Dartrey didn't. Whilst he has achieved almost the
impossible, has, except so far as regards Miller's influence amongst the
trades unions, brought the great army of the people into line, I
accomplished the smaller task of giving them their due weight in the
"Very well, then," Jane declared, looking at him with glowing eyes,
"there is your stocktaking, taken from your own, the most modest point
of view. With your own lips you confess to what you have achieved, to
where you stand. What doubts should any sane man have? How can you say
that the lamp of your life has burned dull?"
"Insight," he answered promptly. "Don't think that I fear the big
fight. I don't. With Dartrey on my side we shall wipe Miller into
oblivion. It isn't true to-day to say that he represents the trades
unions, for the very reason that the trades unions as solid bodies don't
exist any longer. The men have learnt to think for themselves. Many of
them are earnest members of the Democratic Party. They have learnt to
look outside the interests of the little trade in which they earn their
weekly wage. No, it isn't Miller that I am afraid of."
"Then what is it?" she demanded.
"How can I put it?" he went on thoughtfully. "Well, first of all, then,
I feel that the Democrats, when they come into power, are going to
develop as swiftly as may be all the fevers, the sore places, the
jealousies and the pettiness of every other political party which has
ever tried to rule the State. I see the symptoms already and that is
what I think makes my heart grow faint. I have given the best years of
my life to toiling for others. Who believes it? Who is grateful? Who
would not say that because I lead a great party in the House of Commons,
I have all that I have worked for, that my reward is at hand? And it
isn't. If I am Prime Minister in three months' time, there will still
be something left of the feeling of weariness I carry with me to-day."
It was a new phase of the man who unconsciously had grown so dominant in
her life. She felt the pull at her heartstrings. Her eyes were soft
with unshed tears as her arm stole through his.
"Please go on," she whispered.
"There is the ego," he confessed, his voice shaking. "Why it has come
to me just at this period of life—but there it is. I have neglected
human society, human intercourse, sport, pleasures, the joys of a man
who was born to be a man. I am philosopher enough not to ask myself
whether it has been worth while, but I do ask myself—what of the next
"Who am I to give you counsel?" she asked, trembling.
"The only person who can."
"Then I advise you to go on. This is just a mood. There are muddy
places through which one must pass, even in the paths that lead to the
mountain tops, muddy and ugly and depressing places. As one climbs, one
loses the memory of them."
"But I climb always alone," he answered, with a sudden fierceness. "I
walk alone in life. I have been strong enough to do it and I am strong
enough no longer.—Jane," he went on, his voice a little unsteady, his
hands almost clutching hers, "it is only since I have known you that I
have realised from what source upon this earth a man may draw his
inspiration, his courage, the strength to face the moving of mountains,
day by day. My heart has been as dry as a seed plot. You have brought
new things to me, the soft, humanising stimulus of a new hope, a new
joy. If I am to fight on to the end, I must have you and your love."
She was trembling and half afraid, but her hands yielded their pressure
to his. Her lips and her eyes, the little quivering of her body, all
spoke of yielding.
"I have done foolish things in my life," he went on, drawing her nearer
to him. "When I was young, I felt that I had the strength of a
superman, and that all I needed in life was food for the brain. I
placed woman in her wrong place. I sold myself and my chance of
happiness that I might gain more power, a wider influence. It was a sin
against life. It was a greater crime against myself. Now that the
thunder is muttering and the time is coming for the last test, I see the
truth as I have never seen it before. Nature has taken me by the
hand—shows it me.—Tell me it isn't too late, Jane? Tell me you care?
Help me. I have never pleaded for help before. I plead to you."
Her eyes were wet and beautiful with the shine of tears. It seemed to
him in that moment of intense emotion that he could read there
everything he desired in life. Her lips met his almost eagerly, met his
and gave of their own free will.
"Andrew," she murmured, "you see, you are the only man except those of
my family whom I have ever kissed, and I kiss you now—again—and
again—because I love you."
Tallente, notwithstanding the glow of happiness which had taken him down
to Westminster with the bearing of a young man, felt occasional little
shivers of doubt as he leaned back in his seat during the intervals of a
brief but portentous debate and let his mind wander back to that short
hour when he seemed to have emptied out all the hidden yearnings which
had been lurking in the dark corners of his heart and soul. His love
for Jane had no longer the boyish characteristics of a vague worship.
He made no further pretences to himself. It was Jane herself, and not
the spirit of her sex dwelling in her body, which he desired. A tardy
heritage of passion at times rejuvenated him and at others stretched him
upon the rack.
He walked home later with Dartrey, clinging to the man with a new
sympathy and drinking in with queer content some measure of his
happiness. Dartrey himself seemed a little ashamed of its exuberance.
"If it weren't that Nora is so entirely a disciple of our cause,
Tallente," he said, "I think I should feel a little like the man in the
'Pilgrim's Progress,' who stopped to pick flowers by the way. She is
such a help, though. It was she who pointed out the flaw in that second
amendment of Saunderson's, which I had very nearly passed. Did you read
her article in the National, too?"
"Wonderful!" Tallente murmured. "There is no living woman who writes
such vivid and convincing prose."
"And the amazing part of it all is," Dartrey went on, "that she seeks no
reward except just to see the cause prosper. She hasn't the faintest
ambition to fill any post in life which could be filled by a man. She
would write anonymously if it were possible. She has insight which
amounts to inspiration, yet whenever I am with her she makes me feel
that her greatest gift is her femininity."
"It must be the most wonderful thing in life to have the help of any one
like Nora," Tallente said dreamily.
"My friend," the other rejoined, "I wish I could make you believe this.
There is room in the life of the busiest man in the world for an
understanding woman. I'll go further. No man can do his best work
"I believe you are right," Tallente assented.
His friend pressed his arm kindly.
"You've ploughed a lonely furrow for a good many years, Tallente," he
said. "Nora talks of you so often and so wistfully. She is such an
understanding creature.—No, don't go. Just one whisky and soda. It
used to be chocolate, but Nora insists upon making a man of me."
Tallente was a little in the shadow of the hall and he witnessed the
greeting between Nora and her husband: saw her come out of the study,—a
soft, entrancing figure in the little circle of firelight gleaming
through the open door. She threw her arms around Dartrey's neck and
"Dear," she exclaimed, "how early you are! Come and have an easy-chair
by the fire and tell me how every one's been behaving."
Dartrey, with his arm around her waist, turned to Tallente.
"An entirely unrehearsed exhibition, I can assure you, Tallente," he
Nora pouted and passed her other arm through Tallente's.
"That's just like Stephen," she complained, "advertising his domestic
bliss. Never mind, there is room for an easy-chair for you."
Tallente took a whisky and soda but declined to sit down.
"I walked home with Stephen," he said, "and then I felt I couldn't go
away without seeing you just for a moment, Nora."
"Dear man," she answered, "I should have been terribly hurt if you had.
Do make yourself comfortable by the fire. You will be able to check all
that Stephen tells me about the debate to-night. He is so inexact."
Tallente shook his head. "I am restless to-night, Nora," he said
simply. "I shall walk up to the club."
She let him out herself, holding his hand almost tenderly. "Oh, you
poor dear thing!" she said. "I do wish I knew—"
"What to wish you—what to hope for you."
He walked away in silence. They both understood so well.—He found his
way to the club and ate sandwiches with one or two other men, also just
released from the House, but the more he tried to compose himself, the
more he was conscious of a sort of fierce restlessness that drove the
blood through his veins at feverish pace. He wandered from room to
room, played a game of billiards, chafing all the time at the necessity
of finishing the game. He hurried away, pleading an appointment. In
the hall he met Greening, who led him at once to a secluded corner.
"Prepared with your apologia, Tallente?" he enquired.
"It's in your office at the present moment," Tallente replied, "finished
Greening stroked his beard. He was a lank, rather cadaverous man, with
a face like granite and eyes like polished steel. Few men had anything
to say against him. No one liked him.
"How are you regarding the appearance of these outpourings of yours,
Tallente?" he asked.
"With equanimity," was the calm rejoinder. "I think I told you what I
thought of you and your journalism for having any dealings with a thief
and for making yourself a receiver of stolen property. I have nothing
to add to that. I am ready to face the worst now and you may find the
thunders recoil on your own head."
"No one will ever be able to blame us," Greening replied, "for
publishing material of such deep interest to every one, even though it
should incidentally be your political death warrant. As a matter of
fact, Tallente, I was rather hoping that I might meet you here to-night.
The chief and Horlock appear to have had a breeze."
"How does that concern me?" Tallente asked bluntly.
"It may concern you very much indeed. A few days ago I should have told
you, as I did, that nothing in the world could stop the publication of
that article. To-day I am not so sure. At any rate, I believe there is
a chance. Would you care to see the chief?"
"I haven't the slightest desire to," Tallente replied. "I have made my
protest. Nothing in the world can affect the morality of your action.
At the same time, I have got over my first dread of it. I am prepared
with my defence, and perhaps a little in the way of a counterattack.
No, I am not going hat in hand to your chief, Greening. He must do as
he thinks well."
"If that is your attitude," Greening observed, "things will probably
take their course. On the other hand, if you were inclined to have a
heart-to-heart talk with the chief and our other editors, I believe that
something might come of it."
"In other words," Tallente said coldly, "your chief, who is one of the
most magnificent opportunists I ever knew, has suddenly begun to wonder
whether he is backing the right horse."
"Something like it, perhaps," Greening admitted. "Look here, Tallente,"
he went on, "you're a big man in your way and I know perfectly well that
you wouldn't throw away a real advantage out of pique. Consider this
matter. I can't pledge the paper or the chief. I simply say—see him
and talk it over."
Tallente shook his head.
"I am much obliged, Greening," he said, "but I don't want to go through
life with this thing hanging over me. Miller has a copy of the
article, without a doubt. If you turn him down, he'll find some one
else to publish it. I should never know when the thunderbolt was going
to fail. I am prepared now and I would rather get it over."
"Is Dartrey going to back you?" Greening asked.
"I can't give away secrets."
Greening turned slowly away.
"I am off for a rubber of bridge," he said. "I am sorry, Tallente.
Better dismiss this interview from your mind altogether. It very likely
wouldn't have led to anything. All the same, I envy you your
confidence. If I could only guess at its source, I'd have a leader for
Tallente walked down the stairs with a smile upon his lips. He put on
his hat and coat and hesitated for a moment on the broad steps. Then a
sudden wonderful thought came to him, an impulse entirely irresistible.
He started off westward, walking with feverish haste.
The spirit of adventure sat in his heart as he passed through the
crowded streets. The night was wonderfully clear, the stars were
brilliant overhead and from behind the Colliseum dome a corner of the
yellow moon was showing. He was conscious of a sudden new feeling of
kinship with these pleasure-seeking crowds who jostled him here and
there upon the pavement. He was glad to find himself amongst them and
of them. He felt that he had come down from the chilly heights to walk
the lighted highways of the world. The keen air with its touch of frost
invigorated him. There was a new suppleness in his pulses, a queer
excitement in his whole being, which he scarcely understood until his
long walk came to an end and he found himself at a standstill in front
of the house in Charles Street, his unadmitted destination.
He glanced at his watch and found that it was half an hour after
midnight. There was a light in the lower room into which Jane had taken
him on the night of her arrival in town. Above, the whole of the house
seemed in darkness. He walked a little way down the street and back
again. Jane was dining, he knew, with the Princess de Fénaples, her
godmother, and had spoken of going on to a ball with her afterwards. In
that case she could scarcely be home for hours. Yet somehow he had a
joyful conviction that history would repeat itself, that he would find
her, as he had once before, entering the house. His fortune was in the
ascendant. Not even the emptiness of the street discouraged him. He
strolled a little way along and back again. As he passed the door once
more, something bright lying underneath the scraper attracted his
notice. He paused and stooped down. Almost before he had realised what
he was doing, he had picked up a small key, her latch-key, and was
holding it in his hand.
He passed down the street again and there seemed something unreal in the
broad pavement, the frowning houses, the glow of the gas lamps. The
harmless little key burned his flesh. All the passionate acuteness of
life seemed throbbing again in his veins. He retraced his steps, making
no plans, obeying only an ungovernable instinct. The street was empty.
He thrust the key into the lock, opened the door, replaced the key under
the scraper, entered the house and made his way into the room on the
Tallente stood there for a few minutes with fast-beating heart. He had
the feeling that he had burned his boats. He was face to face now with
realities. There was no sound from anywhere. A bright fire was burning
in the grate. An easy-chair was drawn up to the side of a small table,
on which was placed a tumbler, some biscuits, a box of cigarettes and
some matches. A copper saucepan full of milk stood in the hearth, side
by side with some slippers,—dainty, fur-topped slippers. Even these
slight evidences of her coming presence seemed to thrill him. Time
dissolved away into a dream of anticipation. Minutes or hours might
have passed before he heard the motor stop outside, her voice bidding
some friend a cheerful good night, the turning of the key in the door,
the drawing of a bolt, a light step in the hall, and then—Jane.
She was wrapped from head to foot in white furs, a small tiara of
emeralds and diamonds on her head. She entered, humming a tune to
herself, serene, desirable.
Her exclamation, the light in her eyes, the pleasure which swiftly took
the place of her first amazement, intoxicated him. He drew her into his
arms and his voice shook.
"Jane," he confessed, "I tried to keep away and I couldn't. I stole in
here to wait for you. And you're glad—thank heavens you're glad!"
"But how long have you been here?" she asked wonderingly.
He shook his head.
"I don't know. I walked down the street, hoping for a miracle. Then I
saw your key under the scraper. I let myself in and waited.—Jane, how
wonderful you are!"
Unconsciously she had unfastened and thrown aside her furs. Her arms
and neck shone like alabaster in the shaded light. She looked into his
face and began to tremble a little.
"You ought not to have done this," she said.
"Why not?" he pleaded.
"If any one had seen you—if the servants knew!"
He laughed and stopped her mouth with a kiss.
"Dear, these things are trifles. The things that count lie between us
two only. Do you know that you have been in my blood like a fever all
day? You were there in the House this afternoon, you walked the streets
with me, you drew me here.—Jane, I haven't felt like this since I was a
boy. You have brought me back my youth. I adore you!"
Again she rested willingly enough in his arms, smiling at him, as he
drew near to her, with wonderful kindness. The fire of his lips,
however, seemed to disturb her. She felt the enveloping turmoil of his
passion, now become almost ungovernable, and extricated herself gently
from his arms.
"Put my saucepan on the fire, please," she begged. "You will find some
whisky and soda on the sideboard there. Parkins evidently thinks that I
ought to have a male escort when I come home late."
"I don't want whisky and soda, Jane," he cried passionately. "I want
She rested her hand upon his shoulder.
"And am I not yours, dear," she asked,—"foolishly, unwisely perhaps,
but certainly yours?—They were all talking about you to-night at dinner
and I was so proud," she went on, a little feverishly. "Our host was
almost eloquent. He said that Democracy led by you, instead of proving
a curse, might be the salvation of the country, because you have
political insight and imperialistic ideas. It is those terrible people
who would make a parish council of Parliament from whom one has most to
Tallente made no reply. He was standing on the hearth rug, a few feet
away from her, watching as she stirred her milk, watching the curve of
her body, the grace of her long, smoothly shining arms. And beyond
these things he strove to read what was at the back of her mind.
"We must talk almost in whispers," she went on. "And do have your
whisky and soda, Andrew, because you must go very soon."
"It would disturb you very much if your servants were to know of my
presence here?" he asked, in a queer, even tone.
"Of course it would," she answered, without looking at him. "As you
know, I have lived, from my standpoints, an extraordinarily
unconventional life, but that was because I knew myself and was safe.
But—I have never done anything like this before in my life."
"You have never been in the same position," he reminded her. "There has
never been any one else to consider except yourself."
"True enough," she admitted, "but oughtn't that to make one all the more
careful? I loved seeing you when I came in, and I have loved our few
minutes together, but I am getting a little nervous. Do you see that it
is past two o'clock?"
"There is no one to whom you are accountable for anything in life except
to me," he told her passionately.
She laughed softly but a little uneasily.
"Dear Andrew," she said, "there is my own sense of what is seemly
and—must I use the horrid word?—my reputation to be considered. As it
is, you may be seen leaving the house in the small hours of the
A little shiver passed through him. All the splendid warmth of living
seemed to be fading away from his heart and thoughts. He was back again
in that empty world of unreal persons. Jane had been a dream. This
kindly faced, beautiful but anxious girl was not the Jane to whose arms
he had come hotfoot through the streets.
"I ought not to have come," he muttered.
"Dear, I don't blame you in the least," she answered, "only be very
careful as you go out. If there is any one passing in the street, wait
for a moment."
"I understand," he promised. "I will take the greatest care."
He took up his hat and coat mechanically. She thrust her arm through
his and led him to the door, looking furtively into his face as though
afraid of what she might find there. Her own heart was beginning to
beat faster. She was filled with a queer sense of failure.
"You are not angry with me, Andrew? You know that I have been happy to
"I am not angry," he answered.
There was a little choking in her throat. She felt the rush of strange
things. Her eyes sought his, filled with almost terrified anticipation.
It chanced that he was looking away. She clenched her hands. His
moment had passed.
"There is something else on your mind, Andrew, I know, but to-night we
cannot talk any longer," she said, in something resembling her old tone.
"Be very careful, dear. To-morrow—you will come to-morrow."
He walked down the hall with the footsteps of a cat, let himself out
silently into the empty street and walked with leaden footsteps to his
rooms. It was not until he had reached the seclusion of his study that
the change came. A sudden dull fury burned in his heart. He poured
himself out whisky and drank it neat. Then he seated himself before his
desk and wrote. He did not once hesitate. He did not reread a single
sentence. He dug up the anger and the bitterness from his heart and set
them out in flaming phrases. A sort of lunacy drove him into the
bitterest of extremes. His brain seemed fed with the inspiration of his
suffering, fed with cruel epigrams and biting words. He dragged his
idol down into the dust, scoffed at the piecemeal passion which measures
its gifts, the complacency of an analysed virtue, the sense of
well-living and self-contentment achieved in the rubric of a dry-as-dust
morality. She had failed him, offered him stones instead of bread.—He
signed the letter, blotted it with firm fingers, addressed the envelope,
stamped it and dropped it himself into the pillar box at the corner of
the street. Then he turned wearily homeward, filled with the strange,
almost maniacal satisfaction of the man who has killed the thing he
There followed days of sullen battle for Tallente, a battle with luck
against him, with his back to the wall, with despair more than once
yawning at his feet. The house in Charles Street was closed. There had
come no word to him from Jane, no news even of her departure except the
somewhat surprised reply of Parkins, when he had called on the following
"Her ladyship left for Devonshire, sir, by the ten-fifty train."
Tallente went back to the fight with those words ringing in his ears.
He had deliberately torn to pieces his house of refuge. Success or
failure, what did it matter now? Yet with the dogged courage of one
loathing failure for failure's own sake, he flung himself into the
On the fifth day after Jane's departure, the thunderbolt fell.
Tallente's article was printed in full and the weaker members of the
Democratic Party shouted at once for his resignation. At a question
cunningly framed by Dartrey, Tallente rose in the House to defend his
position, and acting on the soundest axiom of military tactics, that the
best defence is attack, he turned upon Miller, and with caustic
deliberation exposed the plot framed for his undoing. He threw caution
to the winds, and though repeatedly and gravely called to order, he
poured out his scorn upon his enemy till the latter, white as a sheet,
rose to demand the protection of the Speaker. There were very few in
the House that day who ever forgot the almost terrifying spectacle of
Miller's collapse under his adversary's hurricane assault, or the proud
and dignified manner in which Tallente concluded his own defence. But
this was only the first step. The Labour Press throughout the country
took serious alarm at an attack which, though out of date and influenced
by conditions no longer predominant, yet struck a very lusty blow at the
very existence of their great nervous centres. Miller, as Chairman of
the Associated Trades Unions, issued a manifesto which, notwithstanding
his declining influence, exercised considerable effect. It seemed clear
that he could rely still upon a good ninety votes in the House of
Commons. Horlock became more cheerful. He met Tallente leaving the
House one windy March evening and the two men shared a taxi together,
"Looks to me like another year of office, thanks to you," the Prime
Minister observed. "Lenton tells me that we shall have a majority of
forty on Thursday week. It is Thursday week you're going for us again,
"Many things may happen before then," Tallente replied, with a little
affirmative nod. "Dartrey may decide that I am too expensive a luxury
and make friends with Miller."
"I don't think that's likely," Horlock pronounced. "Dartrey is a fine
fellow, although he is not a great politician. He is out to make a
radical and solid change in the government of this country and he knows
very well that Miller's gang will only be a dead weight around his neck.
He'd rather wait until he has weaned away a few more votes—even get rid
of Miller if he can—and stick to you."
"I think you are right," Tallente said. "I am keeping the Democrats
from a present triumph, but if through me they shake themselves free
from what I call the little Labourites, I think things will pan out
better for them in the long run."
"And in the meantime," Horlock went on, lighting a cigar and passing his
case to Tallente, "I must give you the credit of playing a magnificent
lone hand. I expected to see Miller fall down in a fit when you went
for him in the House. If only his army of adherents could have heard
that little duel, I think you'd have won straight through!"
"Unfortunately they couldn't," Tallente sighed, "and it's so hard to
capture the attention, to reach the inner understanding, of a great
"It's a curious thing about Englishmen," Horlock reflected, "especially
the Englishman who has to vote. The most eloquent appeals on paper
often leave him unmoved. A perfectly convincing pamphlet he lays down
with the feeling that no doubt it's all right but there must be another
side. It's the spoken words that tell, every time. What about Miller's
election next week?"
"A great deal depends upon that," Tallente replied. "Miller himself
says that it is a certainty. On the other hand, Saunderson is going to
be proposed, and, with Dartrey's influence, should have a pretty good
They travelled on in silence for a short time. Tallente looked idly
through the rain-streaming window at the block of traffic, the hurrying
passers-by, the cheerful warmth of the shops and restaurants.
"You take life too seriously, Tallente," his companion said, a little
"Do I?" Tallente answered, with a thin smile.
"You do indeed. Look at me. I haven't a line on my face as compared
with yours and I've held together a patchwork Government for five years.
I don't know when I may be kicked out and I know perfectly well that the
Government which succeeds mine is going to undo all I have done and is
going to establish a state of things in this country which I consider
nothing short of revolutionary. I am not worrying about it, Tallente.
The fog of Downing Street stinks sometimes in my nostrils, but I have a
little country house—you must come and see me there some day—down in
Buckinghamshire, one of these long, low bungalow types, you know, with
big gardens, two tennis courts, and a golf course just across the river.
My wife spends most of her time there now and every week-end, when I go
down, I think what a fool I am to waste my time trying to hold a
reluctant nation to principles they are thoroughly sick of. Tallente,
you can turn me out whenever you like. The day I settle down for two or
three months' rest is going to be one of the happiest of my life."
"You have a wonderful temperament," Tallente remarked, a little sadly.
"Temperament be damned!" was the forcible reply. "I have done my best.
When you've said those four words, Tallente, any man ought to have
philosophy enough to add, 'Whatever the result may be, it isn't going to
be my funeral.' Look at you—haggard, losing weight every day, poring
over papers, scheming, planning, writing articles, pouring out the great
gift of your life twice as fast as you need. No one will thank you for
it. It's quite enough to give half your soul and the joy of living to
work for others. Keep something up your sleeve for yourself, Tallente.
Mark you, that's the soundest thing in twentieth century philosophy
you'll ever hear of.—Corner of Clarges Street right for you, eh?"
Tallente held out his hand.
"Horlock," he said, "thank you. I know you're right but unfortunately I
am not like you. I haven't an idyllic retreat, a charming companion
waiting for me there, a life outside that's so wonderful. I am driven
on because there's nothing else."
Horlock laid his hand upon his companion's shoulder. His tone was
suddenly grave—amply sympathetic.
"My friend—and enemy," he said. "If that is so—I'm sorry for you."
There was a tense air of expectation amongst the little company of men
who filed into one of the smaller lecture rooms attached to Demos House
a few afternoons later. Two long tables were arranged with sixty or
seventy chairs and a great ballot box was placed in front of the
chairman. A little round of subdued cheers greeted the latter as he
entered the room and took his place,—the Right Honourable John Weavel,
a Privy Councillor, Member for Sheffield and Chairman of the
Ironmaster's Union. Dartrey and Tallente appeared together at the tail
end of the procession. Miller sprang at once to his feet and addressed
"Mr. Chairman," he said, "I call attention to the fact that two
honorary members of this company are present. I submit that as these
honorary members have no vote and the present meeting is called with the
sole object of voting a chairman for the year, honorary members be not
Mr. Weavel shook his head.
"Honorary members have the right to attend all meetings of our society,"
he pronounced. "They can even speak, if invited to do so by the
chairman for the day. I am sure that we are all of us very pleased
indeed to welcome Mr. Dartrey and Mr. Tallente."
There was a murmur of approval, in one or two cases a little dubious.
Dartrey smiled a greeting at Weavel.
"I have asked Mr. Tallente to accompany me," he explained, "because, in
face of the great issues by which the party to which we all belong is
confronted, some question might arise on to-day's proceedings which
would render his presence advisable. He does not wish to address you.
I, however, with the chairman's permission, before you go to the vote
would like to say a few words."
Miller again arose to his feet.
"I submit, Mr. Chairman," he said arrogantly, "that when I had the
privilege of being elected last April, no honorary member was present or
allowed to speak."
Mr. Weavel rose to his feet.
"Gentlemen," he said, "you know what this meeting is. It is a meeting
of fifty-seven representatives of the various trades unions of the
country, to elect a single representative to take the chair whenever
meetings of this company shall be necessary. This gathering does not
exist as a society in any shape or form and we have therefore neither
rules nor usages. Mr. Dartrey and Mr. Tallente, although they are
honorary members, are, I am sure, welcome guests, and whatever either of
them wishes to say to us will, I am sure, be listened to. There is no
business. All that we have to do is to vote, to choose our leader for
the next twelve months. There are two names put forward—Saunderson and
Miller. It is my business only to count the votes you may record.
Presuming that no one else wishes to speak, I shall ask Mr. Dartrey to
say those few words."
Miller sat frowning and biting his nails. Dartrey moved to the farther
end of the room and looked down the long line of attentive faces.
"Weavel," he said, "and you, my friends, I am not here to say a word in
favour of either of the two candidates between whom you have to choose
to-day. I am here just because you are valued members of the great
party which before very long will be carrying upon its shoulders the
burden of this country's government, to tell you of one measure which
some of you know of already, which may help you to realise how important
your to-day's choice will be. You know quite as much about politics as
I do. You know very well that the present Government is doomed. But
for an unfortunate difference of opinion between two of our supporters
who are present to-day, there is not the slightest doubt that the
Government would lose their vote of confidence to-morrow, and that in
that case, if I still remained your chief, I should be asked to form a
Democratic Government, a task which, when the time comes, it is my
intention to pass on to one more skilled in Parliamentary routine. I
want to explain to you that we consider the representative you elect
to-day to be one of the most important personages in that Government.
We have not issued our programme yet. When we do, we are going to make
the country a wonderful promise. We are going to promise that there
shall be no more strikes. That sounds a large order, perhaps, but we
shall keep our word and we are going to end for ever this bitter
struggle between capital and labour by welding the two into one and by
making the interests of one the interests of the other. Our scheme is
that the person whom you elect to-day will be chairman of an inner
conference of twelve. We shall ask you to elect a further three from
amongst yourselves, which will give the trades unions four
representatives upon this inner council. Four representative Cabinet
Ministers will be chosen by ballot to add to their number. Four
employers of labour, elected by the Employers' Association, will also
join the council and the whole will be presided over by the person whom
you elect to-day. There will be a select committee, or rather
fifty-seven select committees, of each industry always at hand, and we
consider that we shall frame in that manner a body of men competent to
deal with the inner workings of every industry. They will decide what
proportion of the earnings of each industry shall be allocated to labour
and what to capital. In other words, they will fix or approve of or
revise the wages of the country. They will settle every dispute and
their decision will be final. The funds held by the various trades
unions will form charitable funds or be returned as bonuses to the
contributors. I have given you the barest outline of the scheme which
has been drawn up to form a part of our programme when the time comes
for us to present one. To-day you are only concerned to elect the one
representative. I am here to beg, gentlemen, that you elect one whose
theories, whose principles, whose antecedents and whose general attitude
towards labour problems will fit him to take a very important place in
the future government of the country."
There was a little murmur of applause. Miller was once more on his
"I claim," he said, "that this is neither the time nor the place to
spring upon us an utterly new method of dealing with Labour questions.
What you propose seems to me a subtle attack upon the trades unions
themselves. They have been the guardians of the people for the last
fifteen years, and even though some strikes have been necessary and
although all strikes may not have been successful, yet on the whole the
trades unions have done their work well. I shall not accept, in the
event of my election, the programme which Mr. Dartrey has laid down,
unless I am elected with a special mandate to do so."
Saunderson rose to his feet, a man of different type, blunt of speech,
rugged, the typical working-man's champion except for his voice, which
was of unexpected tone and quality.
"Mr. Weavel and the rest of you," he said, "I differ from Miller.
That's lucky, because you can vote now not only for the man but the
principle. I have loathed strikes all my life, just because I am
political economist enough to loathe waste and to hate to see production
fettered,—that is, where the fruits of the production are shared fairly
with Labour. I like Dartrey's scheme and I am prepared to stand by it."
Saunderson sat down. Dartrey and Tallente left the room while the
business of voting went on. Dartrey had a private room of his own in
the rear of the building and he and Tallente made their way there.
"Those men have a good deal to decide," Tallente reflected. "It's queer
how the balance of things has changed. I don't suppose any Cabinet
Council for years has had to tackle a more important problem."
"I wonder how they'll vote," Dartrey speculated. "Weavel's our man."
"You can't tell," Tallente replied. "You've given them something fresh
to think about. They may even decide not to vote to-day at all. Miller
has some strong supporters. He appeals tremendously to a certain class
of labour—and that class exists, you know, Dartrey—which loves the
excitement and the loafing of a strike, which feels somehow or other
that benefits got in any other way than by force are less than they
ought to have been."
There was a knock at the door. Northern put in his head. He was the
Boot and Shoe representative.
"Thought I'd let you know how the thing's gone," he said. "There's an
unholy row there. They've chucked Miller. Saunderson's in by five
votes. I'm off back again. Miller's up speaking, tearing mad."
He nodded and disappeared. Dartrey held out his hand.
"Thank God!" he exclaimed. "Let's clear cut, Tallente. Nora must know
about this at once. We'll call at the House and enter your amendment
against the vote of confidence. And then—Nora. I am not sure,
Tallente—the man's a subtle fellow—but I rather think we've driven
the final nail into Miller's coffin."
The great night came and passed with fewer thrills than any one had
imagined possible. Horlock himself undertook the defence of his once
more bitterly assailed Government and from the first it was obvious what
the end must be. He spoke with the resigned cynicism of one who knows
that words are fruitless, that the die is already cast and that his
little froth of words, valedictory in their tone from the first, was
only a tribute to exacting convention. Tallente had never been more
restrained, although his merciless logic reduced the issues upon which
the vote was to be taken to the plainest and clearest elements. He
remained studiously unemotional and nothing which he said indicated in
any way his personal interest in the sweeping away of the Horlock
regime. He was the impersonal but scathing critic, paving the way for
his chief. It was Dartrey himself who overshadowed every one that
night. He spoke so seldom in the House that many of the members had
forgotten that he was an orator of rare quality. That night he lifted
the debate from the level of ordinary politics to the idyllic realms
where alone the lasting good of the world is fashioned. He pointed out
what government might and should be, taking almost a Roman view of the
care of the citizen, his early and late education, his shouldering of
the responsibilities which belong to one of a great community. From the
individual he passed to the nation, sketching in a few nervous but
brilliant phrases the exact possibilities of socialistic legislation;
and he wound up with a parodied epigram: Government, he declared, was
philosophy teaching by failures. In the end, Miller led fourteen of his
once numerous followers into the Government lobby to find himself by
forty votes upon the losing side.
Horlock found Tallente once more slipping quietly away from the House
and bundled him into his car. They drove off rapidly. "So it's
Buckinghamshire for me," the former observed, not without jubilation.
"After all, it has been rather a tame finale. We were beaten before we
opened our mouths."
"Even your new adherent," Tallente said, smiling, "could not save you."
Horlock made a grimace.
"You can have Miller and his faithful fourteen," he declared. "We don't
want him. The man was a Little Englander, he has become a Little
Labourite. Heaven knows where he'll end! Are you going to be Prime
"I don't know," was the quiet reply. "Just for the moment I am weary of
it all. Day after day, fighting and scheming, speaking and writing,
just to get you fellows out. And now we've got you out, well, I don't
know that we are going to do any better. We've got the principles,
we've got some of the men, but is the country ready for our programme!"
"If you ask me, I think the country's ready for anything in the way of a
change," Horlock replied. "I am sure I am. I have been Prime Minister
before, but I've never in my life had such an army of incompetents at
the back of me. Take my tip, Tallente. Don't you have a Chancellor of
the Exchequer who refuses to take a bit off the income tax every year."
"We shall abolish the income tax before long," Tallente declared.
"I shall invest my money in America," Horlock observed, "my savings,
that is. Where shall I put you down?"
"In Chelsea, if you would," Tallente begged. "We are only just turning
off the Embankment. I want to see Mrs. Dartrey."
Horlock gave an order through the tube.
"I am going down to Belgrave Square," he said, "then I am going back to
Downing Street for to-night. To-morrow a dutiful journey to Buckingham
Palace, Saturday a long week-end. I shall take out a season ticket to
Buckinghamshire now. You're not going to nationalise the railways—or
are you, Tallente; what about season tickets then?"
"Nationalisation is badly defined," Tallente replied. "The Government
will certainly aim at regulating the profits of all public companies and
applying a portion of them to the reduction of taxation."
"Well, good luck to you!" Horlock said heartily, as the car pulled up
outside Dartrey's little house. "Here's just a word of advice from an
old campaigner. You're going to tap the people's pockets, that's what
you are going to do, Tallente, and I tell you this, and you'll find it's
the truth—principles or no principles, your own party or any one
else's—the moment you touch the pockets of any class of the community,
from the aristocrat to the stone-breaker, they'll be up against you like
a hurricane. Every one in the world hugs their principles, but there
isn't any one who'd hold on to them if they found it was costing them
money.—So long, and the best of luck to you, Tallente. We may meet in
high circles before long."
Horlock drove away, a discomfited man, jubilant in his thoughts of
freedom. Tallente was met by Nora in the little hall—Nora, who had
kept away from the house at Stephen's earnest request.
"Stephen has done it," Tallente announced triumphantly. "He made the
only speech worth listening to. Horlock crumbled to pieces. Miller
only got fourteen of the ragtail end of his lot to vote with him. We
won by forty votes. Horlock brought me here. He is to have a formal
meeting of the party. He'll offer his resignation on Thursday."
"It's wonderful!" Nora exclaimed.
"Stephen will be sent for," Tallente went on. "That, of course, is a
foregone conclusion. Nora, I wish you'd make him see that it's his duty
to form a Government. There isn't any reason why he should pass it on
to me. I can lead in the Commons if he wants me to, so far as the
debates are concerned. We are altering the procedure, as I dare say you
know. Half the government of the country will be done by committees."
"It's no use," Nora replied. "Stephen simply wouldn't do it. You must
remember what you yourself said—procedure will be altered. So much of
the government of the country will be done outside the House. Stephen
has everything mapped out. You are going to be Prime Minister."
Tallente left early and walked homeward by the least frequented ways. A
soft rain was falling, but the night was warm and a misty moon made
fitful appearances. The rain fell like little drops of silver around
the lampposts. There was scarcely a breath of wind and in Curzon Street
the air was almost faint with the odour of spring bulbs from the window
boxes. Tallente yielded to an uncontrollable impulse. He walked rather
abruptly up Clarges Street, past his rooms, and paid a curious little
visit, almost a pilgrimage, to the closed house in Charles Street. It
seemed to him that those drawn blinds, the dead-looking windows, the
smokeless chimneys typified in melancholy fashion the empty chambers in
his own heart. Weeks had passed now and no word had come from Jane. He
pictured her still smarting under the sting of his brutal words. Some
of his phrases came back to his mind and he shivered with remorse. If
only—He started. It seemed for a moment as though history were about
to repeat itself. A great limousine had stolen up to the kerbstone and
a woman in evening dress was leaning out.
"Mr. Tallente," she called out, "do come and speak to me, please."
Tallente approached at once. In the dim light his heart gave a little
throb. He peered forward. The woman laughed musically. "I do believe
that you have forgotten me," she said, "I am Alice Mountgarron—Jane's
sister. I saw you there and I couldn't help stopping for a moment. Can
I drop you anywhere?"
"Thank you so much," he answered. "My rooms are quite close by here in
"Get in, please, and I will take you there," she ordered. "Tell the man
the number. I want just one word with you."
The car started off. Lady Alice looked at her companion and shook her
"Mr. Tallente," she said, "I am very much a woman of the world and Jane
is a very much stronger person than I am, in some things, and a great
baby in others. You and she were such friends and I have an idea that
there was a misunderstanding."
"There was," he groaned. "It was my fault."
"Never mind whose fault it was," she went on. "You two were made for
each other. You have so much in common. Don't drift apart altogether,
just because one has expected too much, or the other been content to
give too little. Jane has a great soul and a great heart. She wants to
give but she doesn't quite know how. And perhaps there isn't any way.
But two people whose lives seem to radiate towards each other, as yours
and hers, shouldn't remain wholly apart. Take a day or two's holiday
soon, even from this great work of yours, and go down to Devonshire. It
would be very dangerous advice," she went on, smiling, "to a different
sort of man, but I have a fancy that to you it may mean something, and I
happen to know—that Jane is miserable."
The car stopped. Tallente held Lady Alice's hand as he had seldom held
the hand of a woman in his life. A curious incapacity for speech
checked the words even upon his lips.
"Thank you," he faltered.
Upon the moor above Martinhoe and the farm lands adjoining, spring had
fallen that year as gently as the warm rain of April. Tallente,
conscious of an unexpected lassitude, paused as he reached the top of
the zigzag climb from the Manor and rested for a moment upon a block of
stone. Below him, the forests of dwarf oaks which stretched down to the
sea were tipped with delicate green. The meadows were like deep soft
patches of emerald verdure; the fruit trees in his small walled garden
were pink and white with blossoms. The sea was peaceful as an azure
lake into which the hulls of the passing steamers cut like knives,
leaving behind a long line of lazy foam. Little fleecy balls of cloud
were dotted across the sky, puffs of soft wind cooled his cheeks when he
rose to his feet and faced inland.
Soon he left the stony road and walked upon the springy turf bordering
the moorland. Little curled-up shoots of light green were springing
from the bracken. Here and there, a flame of gorse filled the air with
its faint, almond-like blossom. And the birds! Farmlands stretched
away on his left-hand side, and above the tender growth of corn, larks
invisible but multifarious filled the air with little quiverings of
melody. Bleatng lambs, ridiculously young, tottered around on this
new-found, wonderful earth. A pair of partridges scurried away from his
feet; the end of a drooping cloud splashed his face with a few warm
Tallente, as he swung onwards, carrying his cap in his hand, felt a
great glow of thankfulness for the impulse which had brought him here.
Already he was finding himself. The tangled emotions of the last week
were loosening their grip upon his brain and consciousness. Behind him
London was in an uproar, his name and future the theme of every journal.
Journalists were besieging his rooms. Embryo statesmen were telephoning
for appointments. Great men sent their secretaries to suggest a
meeting. And in the midst of it all he had disappeared. The truth as
to his sudden absence from town was unknown even to Dartrey. At the
very moment when his figure loomed large and triumphant upon one of the
great canvasses in history, he had simply slipped away, a disappearance
as dramatic as it was opportune. And all because he had a fancy to see
how spring sat upon the moors,—and because he had walked back to his
rooms by way of Charles Street and because he had met Lady Alice.
The last ascent was finished and below him lay the house and climbing
woods,—woods that crept into the bosom of the hills, the closely
growing trees tipped with tender greens melting into the softest of
indeterminate greys as the breeze rippled through their tops like
fingers across a harp. The darker line of moorland in the background,
scant as ever of herbiage, had yet lost its menacing bareness and seemed
touched with the faint colour of the earth beneath, almost pink in the
generous sunshine. The avenue into which he presently turned was
starred on either side with a riot of primroses, running wild into the
brambles, with here and there a belt of bluebells. The atmosphere
beneath the closely growing trees—limes, with great waxy buds—became
enervating with spring odours and a momentary breathlessness came to
Tallente, fresh from his crowded days and nights of battle. The
sun-warmed wave of perfume from the trim beds of hyacinths in the
suddenly disclosed garden was almost overpowering and he passed like a
man in a dream through their sweetness to the front door. The butler
who admitted him conducted him at once to Jane's sanctum. Without any
warning he was ushered in.
"Mr. Tallente, your ladyship."
He had a strange impression of her as she rose from a very sea of
newspapers. She was thinner—he was sure of that—dressed in indoor
clothes although it was the middle of the morning, a suggestion of the
invalid about her easy-chair and her tired eyes. It seemed to him that
for a moment they were lit with a gleam of fear which passed almost
instantaneously. She had recovered herself even before the door was
closed behind the departing servant.
"Mr. Tallente!" she repeated. "You! But how is this possible?"
"Everything is possible," he answered. "I have come to see you, Jane."
She was glad but amazed. Even when he had obeyed her involuntary
gesture and seated himself by her side, there was something incredulous
about her expression.
"But what does it mean that you are here just now?" she persisted.
"According to the newspapers you should be at Buckingham Palace to-day."
"To-morrow," he corrected her. "I hired a very powerful car and motored
down yesterday afternoon. I am starting back when the moon rises
to-night. For these few hours I am better out of London."
"But why—" she faltered.
He was slowly finding himself.
"I came for you, Jane," he said, "on any terms—anyhow. I came to beg
for your sympathy, for some measure of your affection, to beg you to
come back to Charles Street. Is it too late for me to abase myself?"
Her eyes glowed across at him. She suddenly rose, came over and knelt
by the side of his chair. Her arms went around his neck.
"Andrew," she whispered, "I have been ashamed. I was wrong. That
night—the thought of my pettiness—my foolish, selfish fears.—Oh, I
was wrong! I have prayed that the time might come when I could tell
you. And if you hadn't come, I never could have told you. I couldn't
have written. I couldn't have come to London. But I wanted you to
She drew his head down and kissed him upon the lips. Tallente knew then
why he had come. The whole orchestra of life was playing again. He was
strong enough to overcome mountains.
"Andrew," she faltered, "you really—"
He stopped her.
"Jane," he said, "I have some stupid news. It seems to me incredibly
stupid. Let me pass it on to you quickly. You knew, didn't you, that I
was married in America? Well, my wife has divorced me there. We
married in a State where such things are possible."
"Divorced you?" she exclaimed.
"Quite legally," he went on. "I saw a lawyer before I started yesterday
morning. But listen to the rest of it. Stella is married—married to
the man I thought I had thrown over the cliff. She is married to
"Then you are free?" Jane murmured, drawing a little away. "Not in the
least," he replied. "I am engaged to marry you."
At luncheon, with Parkins in attendance, it became possible for them to
"When I found you at home in the middle of the morning," he said, "I was
afraid that you were Ill."
"I haven't been well," she admitted. "I rode some distance yesterday
and it fatigued me. Somehow or other, I think I have had the feeling,
the last few weeks, that my work here is over. All my farms are sold.
I have really now no means of occupying my time."
"It is fortunate," he told her, with a smile, "that I am able to point
out to you a new sphere of usefulness."
She made a little grimace at him behind Parkins' august back.
"Tell me," she asked, "how did you ever make your peace with the trades
unions after that terrible article of yours?"
"Because," he replied, "except for Miller, their late chief, there are a
great many highly intelligent men connected with the administration of
the trades unions. They realised the spirit in which I wrote that
article and the condition of the country at the time I wrote it. My
apologia was accepted by every one who counted. The publication of that
article," he went on, "was Miller's scheme to drive me out of politics.
It has turned out to be the greatest godsend ever vouchsafed to our
cause, for it is going to put Mr. Miller out of the power of doing
mischief for a—many years to come."
"How I hated him when he called here that day! Jane murmured
"Miller is the type of man," Tallente declared, "who was always putting
the Labour Party in a false position. He was born and he has lived and
he has thought parochially. He is all the time lashing himself into a
fury over imagined wrongs and wanting to play the little tin god on
Olympus with his threatened strikes. Now there will be no more
"I was reading about that," she reflected. "How wonderful it sounds!"
"The greatest power in the country," Tallente explained, "is that
wielded by these trades unions. There will be no more fights between
the Government and them, because they are coaling into the Government.
I am afraid you will think our programme revolutionary. On the other
hand, it is going to be a Government of justice. We want to give the
people their due, each man according to his worth. By that means we
wipe out all fear forever of the scourge of eastern and mid-Europe, the
bolshevism and anarchy which have laid great empires bare. We are not
going to make the poor add to the riches of the rich, but on the other
hand we are not going to take from the rich to give to the poor. The
sociological scheme upon which our plan of government will be based is
to open every avenue to success equally to rich and poor. The human
being must sink or swim, according to his capacity. Ours will never be
a State-aided socialism."
Parkins had left the room. She held out her hand.
"How horrid of you!" she murmured. "You are gibing at me because I lent
my farmers a little money." He laughed softly.
"You dear!" he exclaimed. "On my honour, it never entered into my head.
Only I want to bring you gradually into the new way of thinking, because
I want so much from you so much help and sympathy."
"And?" she pleaded.
He looked around to be sure that Parkins was gone and, leaning from his
place, kissed her.
"If you care for moonlight motoring," he whispered, "I think I can give
you quite a clear outline of all that I expect from you."
She drew a little sigh of relief.
"If you had left me behind," she murmured, "I should have sat here and
imagined that it was all a dream. And I am just a little weary of