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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesNobody's Man - Book One - Chapter 8
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Nobody's Man - Book One - Chapter 8 Post by :BlueLark Category :Long Stories Author :E. Phillips Oppenheim Date :May 2012 Read :2198

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Nobody's Man - Book One - Chapter 8

BOOK ONE CHAPTER VIII

The 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 is Mr. James Miller--Lady Jane Partington."

Mr. Miller was impressed, held out his hand and withdrew it.

"I must apologize for this intrusion, Lady Jane, and to you, Tallente, of course. Mr. Tallente is naturally surprised to see me. He and I are political opponents," he confided, turning to Jane.

Her surprise increased, if possible.

"Are you Mr. Miller, the Democrat M.P.?" she asked,--"the Mr. Miller who was making those speeches at Hellesfield last week?"

"At your ladyship's service," he replied, with a low bow. "I am afraid if you are a friend of Mr. Tallente's you must look upon me as a very disagreeable person."

"If the newspapers are to be believed, your strategies up at Hellesfield scarcely give one an exalted idea of your tactics," she replied coldly. "They all seem to agree that Mr. Tallente was cheated out of his seat."

The intruder smiled tolerantly. He glanced around the room as though expecting to be asked to seat himself. No invitation of the sort, however, was accorded him. "All's fair in love and politics, Lady Jane," he declared. "We Democrats have our programme, and our motto is that those who are not with us are against us. Mr. Tallente here knew pretty well what he was up against."

"On the contrary," Tallente interrupted, "one never knows what one is up against when you are in the opposite camp, Miller. Would you mind explaining why you have sought me out in this singular fashion?"

"Certainly," was the gracious reply. "You have a very distinguished visitor over at the Manor, waiting there to see you. I came over with him and found your car on the point of starting. I took the liberty of hunting you up so that there should be no delay in your return."

"And who may this distinguished visitor he?" Tallente enquired, with unconscious sarcasm. "Stephen Dartrey," Miller answered. "He and Miss Miall and I are staying not far from you."

"Stephen Dartrey?" Lady Jane murmured. "Dartrey?" Tallente echoed. "Do you mean to say that he is over at the Manor now?"

"Waiting to see you," Miller announced, and for a moment there was a little gleam of displeasure in his eyes. Lady Jane sighed. "Now, if only you'd brought him over with you, Mr. Miller," she said, a shade more amiably, "you would have given me real pleasure. There is no man whom I am more anxious to meet." Miller smiled tolerantly. "Dartrey is a very difficult person," he declared. "Although he is the leader of our party, and before very long will be the leader of the whole Labour Party, although he could be Prime Minister to-morrow if he cared about it; he is one of the most retiring men whom I ever knew. At the present moment I believe that he would have preferred to have remained living his hermit's life, a writer and a dilettante, if circumstances had not dragged him into politics. He lives in the simplest way and hates all society save the company of a few old cronies."

"What does Dartrey want with me?" Tallente interrupted, a little brusquely. "It is no part of my mission to explain," Miller replied. "I undertook to come here and beg you to return at once." Tallente turned to Lady Jane. "You will forgive me?" he begged. "In any case, I must have been going in a few minutes."

"I should forgive you even if you went without saying good-by," she replied, "and I can assure you that I shall envy you. I do not want to turn your head," she went on pleasantly, as she walked by his side towards the door and across the hall, rather ignoring Miller, who followed behind, "but for the last two or three years the only political figures who have interested me at all have been Dartrey and yourself--you as the man of action, and Dartrey as the most wonderful exponent of the real, higher Socialism. I had a shelf made for his three books alone. They hang in my bedroom and I look upon them as my textbooks."

"I must tell Dartrey this," Miller remarked from behind. "I am sure he'll be flattered."

"What can he want with you?" Lady Jane asked, dropping her voice a little.

"I can't tell," Tallente confessed. "His visit puzzles me. He is the hermit of politics. He seldom makes advances and has few friends. He is, I believe, a man with the highest sense of honour. Perhaps he has come to explain to me why they threw me out at Hellesfield."

"In any case," she said, as they stood for a moment on the step, "I feel that something exciting is going to happen."

Miller, carrying his tweed cap in his hand, insisted upon a farewell.

"Sorry to have taken your guest away, Lady Jane," he said. "It's an important occasion, however. Would you like me to bring Dartrey over, if we are out this way before we go back?"

She shook her head.

"No, I don't think so," she answered quietly. "I might have an illusion dispelled. Thank you very much, all the same."

Mr. Miller stepped into the car, a little discomfited. Tallente lingered on the step.

"You will let me know?" she begged.

"I will," he promised. "It is probably just a visit of courtesy. Dartrey must feel that he has something to explain about Hellesfield."

There was a moment's curious lingering. Each seemed to seek in vain for a last word. They parted with a silent handshake. Tallente looked around at the corner of the avenue. She was still standing there, gazing after the car, slim, cool and stately. Miller waved his cap and she disappeared.

The car sped over the moorland. Miller, with his cap tucked into his pocket, leaned forward, taking deep gulps of the wonderful air.

"Marvellous!" he exclaimed. "Tallente, you ought to live for ever in such a spot!"

"What does Dartrey want to see me about?" his companion asked, a little abruptly.

Miller coughed, leaned back in his place and became impressive.

"Tallente," he said, "I don't know exactly what Dartrey is going to say to you. I only know this, that it is very possible he may make you, on behalf of all of us--the Democratic Party, that is to say--an offer which you will do well to consider seriously."

"To join your ranks, I suppose?"

"I must not betray a confidence," Miller continued cautiously. "At the same time, you know our power, you have insight enough to guess at our destiny. It is an absolute certainty that Dartrey, if he chooses, may be the next Prime Minister. You might have been in Horlock's Cabinet but for an accident. It may be that you are destined to be in Dartrey's."

Tallente found his thoughts playing strange pranks with him. No man appreciated the greatness of Dartrey more than he. No man, perhaps, had a more profound conviction as to the truth and future of the principles of which he had become the spokesman. He realised the irresistible power of the new democracy. He was perfectly well aware that it was within Dartrey's power to rule the country whenever he chose. Yet there seemed something shadowy about these things, something unpleasantly real and repulsive in the familiarity of his companion, in the thought of association with him, He battled with the idea, treated it as a prejudice, analysed it. From head to foot the man wore the wrong clothes in the wrong manner,--boots of a vivid shade of brown, thick socks without garters, an obviously ready-made suit of grey flannel, a hopeless tie, an unimaginable collar. Even his ready flow of speech suggested the gifts of the tubthumpers his indomitable persistence, a lack of sensibility. He knew his facts, knew all the stock arguments, was brimful of statistics, was argumentative, convincing, in his way sincere. Tallente acknowledged all these things and yet found himself wondering, with a grim sense of irony, how he could call a man "Comrade" with such finger nails!

"It's given you something to think about, eh?" Miller remarked affably.

Tallente came to himself with a little start.

"I'm afraid my mind was wandering," he confessed.

His companion smiled knowingly. He was conscious of Tallente's aloofness, but determined to break through it if he could. After all, this caste feeling was absurd. He was, in his way, a well-known man, a Member of Parliament, a future Cabinet Minister. He was the equal of anybody.

"Don't wonder at it! Pleasant neighbours hereabouts, eh?"

Tallente affected to misunderstand. He glanced around at the few farmhouses dotted in sheltered places amongst the hills.

"There are very few of them," he answered. "That makes this place all the more enjoyable for any one who comes for a real rest."

Miller felt that he was suffering defeat. He opened his lips and closed them again. The jocular reference to Lady Jane remained unspoken. There was something in the calm aloofness of the man by his side which intimidated even while it annoyed him. Soon they commenced the drop from the moorland to where, far away below, the Manor with its lawn and gardens and outbuildings seemed like a child's pleasure palace. Miller leaned forward and pointed downwards.

"There's Dartrey sitting on the terrace," he pointed out. "Dartrey and Nora Miall. You've heard of her, I expect?"

"I know her by repute, of course," Tallente admitted. "She is a very brilliant young woman. It will give me great pleasure to meet her."

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BOOK ONE CHAPTER VIILuncheon was served in a small room at the back of the house. Through the wide-flung French windows was a vista of terraced walks, the two sunken tennis lawns, a walled garden leading into an orchard, and beyond, the great wood-hung cleft in the hills, on either side of which the pastoral fields, like little squares, stretched away upwards. From here there was no trace of the more barren, unkinder side of the moorland. The succession of rich colours merged at last into the dim, pearly hue where sky and cloud met, in the golden haze of the
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