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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesNobody's Man - Book One - Chapter 11
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Nobody's Man - Book One - Chapter 11 Post by :doyleweaver Category :Long Stories Author :E. Phillips Oppenheim Date :May 2012 Read :3509

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Nobody's Man - Book One - Chapter 11

BOOK ONE CHAPTER XI

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

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

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

"Well?"

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

"I suppose I was," she admitted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

"You refused it?"

"Of course!"

She was silent for a moment.

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

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

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

"Well?"

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

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

Tallente shook his head.

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

"They could be changed."

"Impossible!"

"You might be forced to change them."

"By whom?"

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

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

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

"A threat?" he asked pleasantly.

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

"What do you think he deserved?"

She bit her lip.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I do not," he agreed.

"And what about Cheverton House here?"

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

"Alone?"

"It would be more reputable."

"You mean that you will not return there?"

"I do mean that."

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

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

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


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

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

"This is your last word?" she demanded.

"Absolutely!"

"Then I demand that you set me free."

He was a little staggered.

"How on earth can I do that?"

"You can allow me to divorce you."

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

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

He looked at her steadfastly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Everything."

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

He rose to his feet.

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

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

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

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

"Miss Miall!" he exclaimed.

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

Tallente nodded.

"I came to town yesterday."

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

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

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

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

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

Lady Clanarton shook her head.

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

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

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

"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 Tony Palliser?"

Tallente stiffened a little.

"A good many people seem to be talking about Tony Palliser," he observed.

"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, Andrew?"

Tallente sighed.

"I can see that I shall have to take you into my confidence," he murmured.

"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.

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