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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesNobody's Man - Book One - Chapter 9
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Nobody's Man - Book One - Chapter 9 Post by :doyleweaver Category :Long Stories Author :E. Phillips Oppenheim Date :May 2012 Read :1947

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Nobody's Man - Book One - Chapter 9

BOOK ONE CHAPTER IX

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 Hellesfield."

"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?"

"Certainly."

"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 Coalitionists?"

"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 efforts."

"Precisely!"

"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 extinction."

"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 carelessness.

"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 his guests.

"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 your wood."

"It will be delightful," Nora murmured. "I want to go down to the grass pier."

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 Palliser?"

"He has disappeared," Tallente answered calmly. "That is all I know about it."

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 seaward.


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 done."

"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 me."

Dartrey smiled.

"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 your aid."

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 his side.

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

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

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

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BOOK ONE CHAPTER XThe 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,
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BOOK ONE CHAPTER VIIIThe 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
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