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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesNobody's Man - Book One - Chapter 10
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Nobody's Man - Book One - Chapter 10 Post by :doyleweaver Category :Long Stories Author :E. Phillips Oppenheim Date :May 2012 Read :902

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Nobody's Man - Book One - Chapter 10

BOOK ONE CHAPTER X

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

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

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

The Prime Minister coughed.

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

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

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

"You refer to the Democrats?"

"Naturally."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mr. Horlock somewhat resented his visitor's tone.

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

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

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

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

Tallente picked them up, read them through and gasped.

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Without a doubt."

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

Mr. Horlock threw them across the table.

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

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

Mr. Horlock shook his head.

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

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

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

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

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

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

"No, the Democrats."

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

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

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

Horlock shook his head.

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

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

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

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

"I see," Tallente murmured.

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

Tallente nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mr. Horlock rose to his feet.

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

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

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

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NEXT BOOKS

Nobody's Man - Book One - Chapter 11 Nobody's Man - Book One - Chapter 11

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BOOK ONE CHAPTER XITallente, 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
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Nobody's Man - Book One - Chapter 9 Nobody's Man - Book One - Chapter 9

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BOOK ONE CHAPTER IXTallente 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
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