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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesNobody's Man - Book Two - Chapter 5
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Nobody's Man - Book Two - Chapter 5 Post by :Bulleke Category :Long Stories Author :E. Phillips Oppenheim Date :May 2012 Read :2143

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Nobody's Man - Book Two - Chapter 5

BOOK TWO CHAPTER V

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 curiously.

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!'"

She laughed.

"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 moment."

"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 desirable."

"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 him alive."

"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 people."

"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."

Horlock sighed.

"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 revoir!"

On his way back to the reception rooms, an acquaintance tapped him on the shoulder.

"One moment, Tallente. Lady Alice Mountgarron has asked me to present you."

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 mists."

"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."

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