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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesNobody's Man - Book Two - Chapter 6
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Nobody's Man - Book Two - Chapter 6 Post by :Bulleke Category :Long Stories Author :E. Phillips Oppenheim Date :May 2012 Read :3199

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Nobody's Man - Book Two - Chapter 6

BOOK TWO CHAPTER VI

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 hands.

"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 paradise."

"Miller?" Tallente repeated, with instant comprehension.

"Yes! I was thinking, only the other day, that you scarcely see enough of Miller."

"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 self-conscious truculence.

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 almost here."

"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 doggedly.

"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 fight."

"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 you?"

Miller drank creme 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 go home."

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 human vision.

Tallente walked home with Nora. They chose the longer way, by the Embankment.

"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 confessed.

"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 understanding woman.

"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, intensely sympathetic.

"Tell me, where is your wife?" she asked.

"In America."

"It is hopeless with her?"

"Utterly and irretrievably hopeless."

"It has been for long?"

"For years."

"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 baby!"

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 upright.

"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.

JANE.

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Nobody's Man - Book Two - Chapter 7 Nobody's Man - Book Two - Chapter 7

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BOOK TWO CHAPTER VIIFor 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
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Nobody's Man - Book Two - Chapter 5 Nobody's Man - Book Two - Chapter 5

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BOOK TWO CHAPTER VThe 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.
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