"The strongest of us need to rest sometimes," she agreed quietly.
He relapsed into a silence so apparently deliberate that she accepted it as a respite for herself also. From the greater seclusion of her shadowy seat, she found herself presently able to watch him unnoticed,—the brooding melancholy of his face, the nervous, unsatisfied mouth, the discontent of his sombre brows. Then, even as she watched, the change in his expression startled her. His eyes were fixed upon the narrow ribbon of road which twisted around the other side of the house and led over the bleaker moors, seawards. The look puzzled her, gave her an uncomfortable feeling. Its note of appreciation seemed to her inexplicable. With a quaint, electrical sympathy, he caught the unspoken question in her eyes and translated it.
"You are beginning to doubt me," he said. "You are wondering if the shadow I carry with me is not something more than the mere depression of a man who has failed."
"You have not failed," she declared, "and I never doubt you, but there was something in your face just then which was strange, something alien to our talk. It was as though you saw something ominous in the distance."
"It is true," he admitted. "In the distance I can see the car I ordered to come and fetch me. There is a passenger—a man in the tonneau. I am wondering who he is."
"Some one to whom your man has given a lift, perhaps," she suggested.
He shook his head.
"I have another feeling—perhaps I should say an apprehension. It is some one who brings news."
"Neither," he answered. "I thought that Fate had dealt me out most of her evil tricks when I came down here, a political outcast. She had another one up her sleeve, however. Do you read your morning papers?"
"Every day," she confessed. "Is it a weakness?"
"Not at all."
"You read of the disappearance of the Honourable Anthony Palliser?"
"Of course," she answered. "Besides, you told me about it, did you not, yesterday afternoon? I know one of his sisters quite well, and I was looking forward to seeing something of him down here."
"I was obliged to dismiss him at a moment's notice," Tallente went on. "He betrayed his trust and he has disappeared. That very imposing police inspector who broke up our tete-a-tete yesterday afternoon and I fear shortened your visit came on his account. He was the spokesman for a superior authority in London. They have come to the conclusion that I could, if I chose, throw some light upon his disappearance."
"And could you?"
He rose to his feet.
"You are the one person in the world," he said, "to whom I could tell nothing but the truth. I could."
They both heard the sound of footsteps in the hall. Lady Jane, disturbed by the ominous note in Tallente's voice, rose also to her feet, glancing from him towards the door, filled with some vague, inexplicable apprehension. Tallente showed no fear, but it was plain that he had nerved himself to face evil things. There was something almost ludicrous in this denouement to a situation which to both had seemed filled with almost dramatic possibilities. The door was opened by Parkins, the stout, discreet man servant, ushering in the unkempt, ill-tailored, ungainly figure of James Miller.
"This gentleman," Parkins announced, "wishes to see Mr. Tallente on urgent business."
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."
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?"
"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."
"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."
"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."
The 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, eh? Now their point of view is that you let Miller make all the running, let him make his points and never got an answer in—never got a grip on the people, eh?"
"That may do for the official explanation," Tallente replied coldly, "but as a plain statement of facts it is entirely beside the mark. If you will forgive my saying so, sir, it has been one of your characteristics in life, born, without doubt," he added, with a little bow, "of your indomitable courage, to minimise difficulties and dangers of a certain type. You did not sympathise with me in my defeat at Hellesfield because you underrated, as you always have underrated, the vastly growing strength and dangerous popularity of the party into whose hands the government of this country will shortly pass."
Mr. Horlock frowned portentously. This was not at all the way in which he should have been addressed by an unsuccessful follower. But underneath that frown was anxiety.
"You refer to the Democrats?"
"Do I understand you to attribute your defeat, then, to the tactics of the Democratic Party?"
"It is no question of supposition," Tallente replied. "It is a certainty."
"You believe that they have a greater hold upon the country than we imagine, then?"
"I am sure of it," was the confident answer. "They occupy a position no other political party has aimed at occupying in the history of this country. They aid and support themselves by means of direct and logical propaganda, carried to the very heart and understanding of their possible supporters. Their methods are absolutely unique and personally I am convinced that it is their destiny to bring into one composite body what has been erroneously termed the Labour vote."
Horlock smiled indulgently. He preferred to assume a confidence which he could not wholly feel.
"I am glad to hear your opinion, Tallente," he said. "I have to remember, however, that you are still smarting under a defeat inflicted by these people. What I cannot altogether understand is this: How was it that you were entirely deprived of their support at Hellesfield. You yourself are supposed to be practically a Socialist, at any rate from the point of view of the staider of my party. Yet these fellows down at Hellesfield preferred to support Bloxham, who twenty years ago would have been called a Tory."
"I can quite understand your being puzzled at that," Tallente acknowledged. "I was myself at first. Since then I have received an explanation."
"Well, well," Mr. Horlock interjected, with a return of his official genial manner, "we'll let sleeping dogs lie. Have you made any plans, Tallente?"
"A week ago I thought of going to Samoa," was the grim reply. "You don't want me, the country didn't seem to want me. I have worked for other people for thirty years. I rather thought of resting, living the life of a lotus eater for a time."
"An extremist as ever," the Prime Minister remarked tolerantly. "Even a politician who has worked as hard as you have can find many pleasurable paths in life open to him in this country. However, the necessity for such an extreme course of action on your part is done away with. I am very pleased to be able to tell you that the affair concerning which I have been in communication with your secretary for the last two months has taken an unexpectedly favourable turn."
"What the mischief do you mean?" Tallente enquired, puzzled.
"I mean," Mr. Horlock announced, with a friendly smile, "that sooner than be deprived of your valuable services, His Majesty has consented that you should go to the Upper House. You will be offered a peerage within the next fortnight."
Tallente stared at the speaker as though he had suddenly been bereft of his senses.
"What on earth are you talking about, sir?" he demanded.
Mr. Horlock somewhat resented his visitor's tone.
"Surely my statement was sufficiently explicit?" he said, a little stiffly. "The peerage concerning which at first, I admit, I saw difficulties, is yours. You can, without doubt, be of great service to us in the Upper House and—"
"But I'd sooner turn shopkeeper!" Tallente interrupted. "If I understand that it is your intention to offer me a peerage, let us have no misunderstanding about the matter. It is refused, absolutely and finally."
The Prime Minister stared at his visitor for a moment in amazement. Then he unlocked a drawer in his desk, drew out several letters and threw them over to Tallente.
"And will you tell me what the devil you mean by authorising your secretary to write these letters?" he demanded.
Tallente picked them up, read them through and gasped.
"Written by Palliser, aren't they?" Mr. Horlock demanded.
"Without a doubt," Tallente acknowledged. "The amazing thing, however, is that they are entirely unauthorised. The subject has never even been discussed between Palliser and myself. I am exceedingly sorry, sir," he went on, "that you should have been misled in this fashion, but I can only give you my word of honour that these letters are entirely and absolutely unauthorised."
"God bless my soul!" the Prime Minister exclaimed. "Where is Palliser? Better telephone."
"Palliser left my service a week or more ago," Tallente replied. "He left it at a moment's notice, in consequence of a personal disagreement concerning which I beg that you will ask no questions I can only assure you that it was not political. Since he left no word has been heard of him. The papers, even, have been making capital of his disappearance."
"It is the most extraordinary thing I ever heard in my life," Horlock declared, a little irritably. "Why, I've spent hours of my time trying to get this matter through."
"Dealing seriously with Palliser, thinking that he represented me in this matter?"
"Without a doubt."
"Will you lend me the letters?" Tallente asked.
Mr. Horlock threw them across the table.
"Here they are. My secretary wrote twice to Palliser last week and received no reply. That is why I sent you a telegram."
"I was on my way to see you, anyway," Tallente observed. "I thought that you were going to offer me a seat."
Mr. Horlock shook his head.
"We simply haven't a safe one," he confided, "and there isn't a soul I could ask to give up, especially, to speak plainly, for you, Tallente. They look upon you as dangerous, and although it would have been a nine days' wonder, most of my people would have been relieved to have heard of your going to the Upper House."
"I see," Tallente murmured. "In plain words, you've no use for me in the Cabinet?"
"My dear fellow," the Prime Minister expostulated, "you have no right to talk like that. I offered you a post of great responsibility and a seat which we believed to be perfectly safe. You lost the election, bringing a considerable amount of discredit, if you will forgive my saying so, upon the Government. What more can I do?"
Tallente was watching the speaker curiously. He had thought over this interview all the way up on the train, thought it out on very different lines.
"Nothing, I suppose," he admitted, "yet there's a certain risk about dropping me, isn't there? You might drive me into the arms of the enemy."
"What, the old Whig lot? Not a chance! I know you too well for that."
"No, the Democrats."
Horlock moved restlessly in his chair. He was eyeing his visitor steadfastly.
"What, the people who have just voted solidly against you?"
"Hasn't it occurred to you that that might have been political strategy?" Tallente suggested. "They might have maneuvered for the very situation which has arisen—that is, if I am really worth anything to anybody."
Horlock shook his head.
"Oil and water won't mix, Tallente, and you don't belong to that crowd. All the same," he confessed, "I shouldn't like you with them. I cannot believe that such a thing would ever come to pass, but the thought isn't a pleasant one."
"Now that you have made up your mind that I don't want to go to the House of Lords and wouldn't under any possible consideration," Tallente asked, "have you anything else to suggest?"
Mr. Horlock was a little annoyed. He considered that he had shown remarkable patience with a somewhat troublesome visitor.
"Tallente," he said, "it is of no use your being unreasonable. You had your chance at Hellesfield and you lost it; your chance in my Cabinet and lost that too. You know for yourself how many rising politicians I have to satisfy. You'll be back again with us before long, of course, but for the present you must be content to take a rest. We can make use of you on the platform and there are always the reviews."
"I see," Tallente murmured.
"The fact is," his host concluded, as his fingers strayed towards the dismissal bell, "you made rather a mistake, Tallente, years ago, in dabbling at all with the Labour Party. At first, I must admit that I was glad. I felt that you created, as it were, a link between my Government and a very troublesome Opposition. To-day things have altered. Labour has shown its hand and it demands what no sane man could give. We've finished with compromise. We have to fight Socialism or go under."
"One moment," he begged, as the Prime Minister's forefinger rested upon the button of the bell. "Now may I tell you just why I came to pay you this visit?"
"If there is anything more left to be said," Mr. Horlock conceded, with an air of exaggerated patience.
"There is just this," Tallente declared. "If you had had a seat to offer me or a post in your Cabinet, I should have been compelled to decline it, just as I have declined that ridiculous offer of a peerage. I have consented to lead the Democratic Party in the House of Commons."
The Prime Minister's fingers slipped slowly from the knob of the bell. He was a person of studied deportment. A journalist who had once written of his courtly manners had found himself before long the sub-editor of a Government journal. At that moment he was possessed of neither manners nor presence. He sat gazing at Tallente with his mouth open. The latter rose to his feet.
"I ask you to believe, sir," he said, "that the step which I am taking is in no way due to my feeling of pique or dissatisfaction with your treatment. I go where I think I can do the best work for my country and employ such gifts as I have to their best advantage."
"But you are out to ruin the country!" Horlock faltered. "The Democrats are Socialists."
"From one point of view," Tallente rejoined, "every Christian is a Socialist. The term means nothing. The programme of my new party aims at the destruction of all artificial barriers which make prosperity easy to one and difficult to another. It aims not only at the abolition of great fortunes and trusts, but at the abolition of the conditions which make them possible. It embraces a scheme for national service and a reasonable imperialism. It has a sane programme, and that is more than any Government which has been in office since the war has had."
Mr. Horlock rose to his feet.
"Tallente," he pronounced, "you are a traitor to your class and to your country."
He struck the bell viciously. His visitor turned away with a faint smile.
"Don't annoy me," he begged, "or I may some day have to send you to the House of Lords!"
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."
"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?"
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!"
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."
"You might be forced to change them."
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."
"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.
"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?"
"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?"
"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?"
"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.
Dartrey had been called unexpectedly to the north, to a great Labour conference, and Tallente, waiting for his return, promised within the next forty-eight hours, found himself rather at a loose end. He avoided the club, where he would have been likely to meet his late political associates, and spent the morning after his visit to the Prime Minister strolling around the Park, paying visits to his tailor and hosier, and lunched by himself a little sadly in a fashionable restaurant. At five o'clock he found his way to Westminster and discovered Nora Miall's flat. A busy young person in pince-nez and a long overall, who announced herself as Miss Miall's secretary, was in the act of showing out James Miller as he rang the bell. "Any news?" the latter asked, after Tallente had found it impossible to avoid shaking hands. "I am waiting for Mr. Dartrey's return. No, there is no particular news that I know of."
"Dartrey's had to go north for a few days," Miller confided officiously. "I ought to have gone too, but some one had to stay and look after things in the House. Rather a nuisance his being called away just now."
Tallente preserved a noncommittal silence. Miller rolled a cigarette hastily, took up his unwrapped umbrella and an ill-brushed bowler hat.
"Well, I must be going," he concluded. "If there is anything I can do for you during the chief's absence, look me up, Mr. Tallente. It's all the same, you know—Dartrey or me—Demos House in Parliament Street, or the House. You haven't forgotten your way there yet, I expect?"
With which parting shaft Mr. James Miller departed, and the secretary, Opening the door of Nora's sitting room, ushered Tallente in.
"Mr. Tallente," she announced, with a subdued smile, "fresh from a most engaging but rather one-sided conversation with Mr. Miller."
Nora was evidently neither attired nor equipped this afternoon for a tea party at Claridge's. She wore a dark blue princess frock, buttoned right up to the throat. Her hair was brushed straight back from her head, revealing a little more completely her finely shaped forehead. She was seated before a round table covered with papers, and Tallente fancied, even as he crossed the threshold, that there was an electric atmosphere in the little apartment, an impression which the smouldering fire in her eyes, as she glanced up, confirmed. The change in her expression, however, as she recognised her visitor, was instantaneous. A delightful smile of welcome chased away the sombreness of her face.
"My dear man," she exclaimed, "come and sit down and help me to forget that annoying person who has just gone out!"
"Miller is not one of your favorites, then?"
"Isn't he the most impossible person who ever breathed." she replied. "He was a conscientious objector during the war, a sex fanatic since—Mr. Dartrey had to use all his influence to keep him out of prison for writing those scurrulous articles in the Comet—and I think he is one of the smallest-minded, most untrustworthy persons I ever met. For some reason or other, Stephen Dartrey believes in him. He has a wonderful talent for organization and a good deal of influence with the trades unions.—By the by, it's all right about the muffins."
She rang the bell and ordered tea. Tallente glanced for a moment about the room. The four walls were lined with well-filled bookcases, but the mural decorations consisted—except for one wonderful nude figure, copy of a well-known Rodin—of statistical charts and shaded maps. There were only two signs of feminine occupation: an immense bowl of red roses, rising with strange effect from the sea of manuscript, pamphlets, and volumes of reference, and a wide, luxurious couch, drawn up to the window, through which the tops of a little clump of lime trees were just visible. As she turned back to him, he noticed with more complete appreciation the lines of her ample but graceful figure, the more remarkable because she was neither tall nor slim.
"So that was your wife at Claridge's yesterday afternoon?" she remarked, a little abruptly.
He assented in silence. Her eyes sought his speculatively.
"I know that Lady Clanarton is a terrible gossip," she went on. "Was she telling me the truth when she said that your married life was not an entire success?"
"She was telling you the truth," Tallente admitted.
"I like to know everything," she suggested quietly. "You must remember that we shall probably become intimates."
"I did my wife the injustice of marrying her for money," Tallente explained. "She married me because she thought that I could provide her with a social position such as she desired. Our marriage was a double failure. I found no opportunity of making use of her money, and she was discontented with the value she received for it. We have within the last few days agreed to separate. Now you know everything," he added, with a little smile, "and curiously enough, considering the brevity of our acquaintance, you know it before anybody else in the world except one person."
"I like to know everything about the people I am interested in," she admitted. "Besides, your story sounds so quaint. It seems to belong, somehow or other, to the days of Anthony Trollope and Jane Austen. I suppose that is because I always feel that I am living a little way in the future."
Tea was brought in, and a place cleared for the tray upon a crowded table. Afterwards she lit a cigarette and threw herself upon the lounge.
"Turn your chair around towards me," she invited. "This is the hour I like best of any during the day. Do you see what a beautiful view I have of the Houses of Parliament? And there across the river, behind that mist, the cesspool begins. Sometimes I lie here and think. I see right into Bermondsey and Rotherhithe and all those places and think out the lives of the people as they are being lived. Then I look through those wonderful windows there—how they glitter in the sunshine, don't they!—and I think I hear the men speak whom they have sent to plead their cause. Some Demosthenes from Tower Hill exhausts himself with phrase-making, shouts himself into a perspiration, drawing lurid, pictures of hideous and apparent wrongs, and a hundred or so well-dressed legislators whisper behind the palms of their hands, make their plans for the evening and trot into their appointed lobbies like sheep when the division bell rings. It is the most tragical epitome of inadequacy the world has ever known."
"Have you Democrats any fresh inspiration, then?" he asked.
"Of course we have," she rapped out sharply. "It isn't like you to ask such a question. The principles for which we stand never existed before, except academically. No party has ever been able to preach them within the realm of practical politics, because no party has been comprehensive enough. The Labour Party, as it was understood ten years ago, was a pitiful conglomeration of selfish atoms without the faintest idea of coordination. It is for the souls of the people we stand, we Democrats, whether they belong to trades unions or not, whether they till the fields or sweat in the factories, whether they bend over a desk or go back and forth across the sea, whether they live in small houses or large, whether they belong to the respectable middle classes whom the after-the-war legislation did its best to break, or to the class of actual manual laborers."
"I don't see what place a man like Miller has in your scheme of things," he observed, a little restlessly.
She shrugged her shoulders.
"Miller is a limpet," she said. "He has posed as a man of brains for half a generation. His only real cleverness is an unerring but selfish capacity for attaching himself to the right cause. We can't ignore him. He has a following. On the other hand, he does not represent our principles any more than Pitt would if he were still alive."
"What will be your position really as regards the two main sections of the Labour Party?" he asked. "We are absorbing the best of them, day by day," she answered quickly. "What is left of either will be merely the scum. The people will come to us. Their discarded leaders can crawl back to obscurity. The people may follow false gods for a very long time, but they have the knack of recognising the truth when it is shown them."
"You have the gift of conviction," he said thoughtfully.
She shrugged her shoulders.
"Our cause speaks, not I," she declared. "Every word I utter is a waste of breath, a task of supererogation. You can't associate with Stephen Dartrey for a month without realising for yourself what our party means and stands for. So—enough. I didn't ask you here to undertake any missionary work. I asked you, as a matter of fact, for my own pleasure. Take another cigarette and pass me one, please. And here's another cushion," she added, throwing it to him. "You look as though you needed it." He settled down more comfortably. He had the pleasant feeling of being completely at his ease.
"So far as entertaining you is concerned," he confessed, "I fear I am likely to be a failure. I am beginning to feel like a constant note of interrogation. There is so much I want to know."
"Proceed, then. I am resigned," she said with a smile. "About yourself. I just knew of you as the writer of one or two articles in the reviews. Why have I never heard more of you?"
"One reason," she confided, "is because I am so painfully young. I haven't had time yet to become a wonderful woman. You see, I have the tremendous advantage of not having known the world except from underneath a pigtail, while the war was on. I was able to bring to these new conditions an absolutely unbiassed understanding."
"But what was your upbringing?" he asked. "Your father, for instance?"
"Is this going to be a pill for you?" she enquired, with slightly wrinkled forehead. "He was professor of English at Dresden University. We were all living there when the war broke out, but he was such a favourite that they let us go to Paris. He died there, the week after peace was declared. My mother still lives at Versailles. She was governess to Lady Clanarton's grandchildren, hence my presence yesterday in those aristocratic circles."
"And you live here alone?"
"With my secretary—the fuzzyhaired young person who was just getting rid of Mr. Miller for me when you arrived. We are a terribly advanced couple, in our ideas, but we lead a thoroughly reputable life. I sometimes think," she went on, with a sigh, "that all one's tendencies towards the unusual can be got rid of in opinions. Susan, for instance—that is my secretary's name—pronounces herself unblushingly in favour of free love, but I don't think she has ever allowed a man to kiss her in her life."
"Your own opinions?" he asked curiously. "I suppose they, too, are a little revolutionary, so far as regards our social laws?"
"I dare not even define them," she acknowledged, "they are so entirely negative. Somehow or other, I can't help thinking that the present system will die out through the sheer absurdity of it. We really shan't need a crusade against the marriage laws. The whole system is committing suicide as fast as it can."
"How old are you?" he asked.
"Twenty-four," she answered promptly.
"And supposing you fell in love—taking it for granted that you have not done so already—should you marry?"
Her eyes rested upon his, a little narrowed, curiously and pleasantly reflective. All the time the corners of her sensitive mouth twitched a little.
"To tell you the truth," she confided, with a somewhat evasive air, "I have been so busy thinking out life for other people that I have never stopped to apply its general principles to myself."
"You are a sophist," he declared.
"I have not your remarkable insight," she laughed mockingly.
"How this came about I don't even quite know," Tallente remarked, an hour or so later, as he laid down the menu and smiled across the corner table in the little Soho restaurant at his two companions.
"I can tell you exactly," Nora declared. "You are in town for a few days only, and I want to see as much of you as I can; Susan here is deserting me at nine o'clock to go to a musical comedy; I particularly wanted a sole Georges, and I knew, if Susan and I came here alone, a person whom we neither of us like would come and share our table. Therefore, I made artless enquiries as to your engagements for the evening. When I found that you proposed to dine alone in some hidden place rather than run the risk of meeting any of your political acquaintances at the club, I went in for a little mental suggestion."
"I see," he murmured. "Then my invitation wasn't a spontaneous one?"
"Not at all," she agreed. "I put the idea into your head."
"And now that we are here, are you going to stretch me on the rack and delve for my opinions on all sorts of subjects? is Miss Susan there going to take them down in shorthand on her cuff and you make a report to Dartrey when he comes back to-morrow?"
She laughed at him from underneath her close-fitting, becoming little hat. She was biting an olive with firm white teeth.
"After hours," she reassured him. "Susan and I are going to talk a little nonsense after the day's work. You may join in if you can unbend so far. We shall probably eat more than is good for us—I had a cup of coffee for lunch—and if you decide to be magnificent and offer us wine, we shall drink it and talk more nonsense than ever."
He called for the wine list.
"I thought we were going to discuss the effect of Grecian philosophy upon the Roman system of government."
She shook her head.
"You're a long way out," she declared, "Our conversation will skirt the edges of many subjects. We shall speak of the Russian Ballet, Susan and I will exchange a few whispered confidences about our admirers, we shall discuss even one who comes in and goes out, with subtle references to their clothes and morals, and when you and I are left alone we may even indulge in the wholesome, sentimental exercise of a little flirtation."
"There you have me," he confessed. "I know a little about everything else you have mentioned."
"A very good opening." she approved. "Keep it till Susan has gone and then propose yourself as a disciple. There is only one drawback about this place," she went on, nodding curtly across the room to Miller. "So many of our own people come here. Mr. Miller must be pleased to see us together."
"Why?" Tallente asked. "Is he an admirer?"
Nora's face was almost ludicrously expressive.
"He would like to he," she admitted, "but, thick-skinned though he is, I have managed to make him understand pretty well how I feel about him. You'll find him a thorn in your side," she went on reflectively.
"You see, if our party has a fault, it is in a certain lack of system. We have only a titular chief and no real leader. Miller thinks that post is his by predestination. Your coming is beginning to worry him already. It was entirely on your account he paid me that visit this afternoon."
"To be perfectly frank with you," Tallente sighed, "I should find Miller a loathsome coadjutor."
"There are drawbacks to everything in life," Nora replied. "Long before Miller has become anything except a nuisance to you, you will have realised that the only political party worth considering, during the next fifty years, at any rate, will be the Democrats. After that, I shouldn't be at all surprised if the aristocrats didn't engineer a revolution, especially if we disenfranchise them.—Susan, you have a new hat on. Tell me at once with whom you are going to Daly's?"
"No one who counts," the girl declared, with a little grimace. "I am going with my brother and a very sober married friend of his."
"After working hours," Nora confessed, glancing critically at the sole which had just been tendered for Tallente's examination, "the chief interest of Susan and myself, as you may have observed, lies in food and in your sex. I think we must have what some nasty German woman once called the man-hunger."
"It sounds cannibalistic," Tallente rejoined. "Have I any cause for alarm?"
"Not so far as I am concerned," Susan assured him. "I have really found my man, only he doesn't know it yet. I am trying to get it into his brain by mental suggestion."
"You wouldn't think Susan would be so much luckier than I, would you?" Nora observed, studying her friend reflectively. "I am really much better-looking, but I think she must have more taking ways. You needn't be nervous, Mr. Tallente. You are outside the range of our ambitions. I shall have to be content with some one in a humbler walk of life."
"Aren't you a little over-modest?" he asked. "You haven't told me much about the social side of this new era which you propose to inaugurate, but I imagine that intellect will be the only aristocracy."
"Even then," Norah sighed, "I am lacking in confidence. To tell you the truth, I am not a great believer in my own sex. I don't see us occupying a very prominent place in the politics of the next few decades. The functions of woman were decided for her by nature and a million years of revolt will never alter them."
Tallente was a little surprised.
"You mean that you don't believe in woman Member of Parliament, doctors and lawyers, and that sort of thing?"
"In a general way, certainly not," she replied. "Women doctors for women and children, yes! Lawyers—no! Members of Parliament—certainly not! Women were made for one thing and to do that properly should take all the energy they possess."
"You are full of surprises," Tallente declared. "I expected a miracle of complexity and I find you almost primitive." She laughed. "Then considering the sort of man you are, I ought to have gone up a lot in your estimation."
"There are a very few higher notches," he assured her, smiling, "than the one where you now sit enthroned."
Nora glanced at her wrist watch.
"Susan dear, what time do you have to join your friends?" she asked.
Susan shook her head.
"Nothing doing. I've got my seat. I am going when I've had my dinner comfortably. There's fried chicken coming and no considerations of friendship would induce me to hurry away from it."
Nora sighed plaintively.
"There is no doubt about it, women do lack the sporting instinct," she lamented. "Now if we'd both been men, and Mr. Tallente a charming woman, I should have just given you a wink, you would have muttered something clumsy about an appointment, shuffled off and finished your dinner elsewhere."
"Our sex isn't capable of such sacrifices," Susan declared, leaning back to enable the waiter to fill her glass. "There's the champagne, too."
The meal came to a conclusion with scarcely another serious word. Susan departed in due course, and Tallente called for his bill, a short time afterwards, with a feeling of absolute reluctance.
"Shall we try and get in at a show somewhere?" he suggested.
She shook her head.
"Not to-night. Four nights a week I go to bed early and this is one of them. Let's escape, if we can, before Mr. Miller can make his way over here. I know he'll try and have coffee with us or something."
Tallente was adroit and they left the restaurant just as Miller was rising to his feet. Nora sprang into the waiting taxi with a little laugh of triumph and drew her skirts on one side to make room for her escort. They drove slowly off along the hot and crowded street, with its long-drawn-out tangle of polyglot shops, foreign-looking restaurants and delicatessen establishments. Every one who was not feverishly busy was seated either at the open windows of the second or third floor, or out on the pavement below. The city seemed to be exuding the soaked-in heat of the long summer's day. The women who floated by were dressed in the lightest of muslins; even the plainest of them gained a new charm in their airy and butterfly-looking costumes. The men walked bareheaded, waistcoatless, fanning themselves with straw hats. Here and there, as they turned into Shaftesbury Avenue, an immaculately turned-out young man in evening dress passed along the baked pavements and dived into one of the theatres. Notwithstanding the heat, there seemed to be a sort of voluptuous atmosphere brooding over the crowded streets. The sky over Piccadilly Circus was almost violet and the luminous, unneeded lamps had a festive effect. The strain of a long day had passed. It was the pleasure-seekers alone who thronged the thoroughfares. Tallente turned and looked into the corner of the cab, to meet a soft, reflective gleam in Nora's eyes.
"Isn't London wonderful!" she murmured dreamily. "On a night like this it always seems to me like a great human being whose pulses you can see heating, beating all the time."
Tallente, a person very little given to self-analysis, never really understood the impulse which prompted him to lean towards her, the slightly quickening sense of excitement with which he sought for the kindness of her eyes. Suddenly he felt his fingers clasped in hers, a warm, pleasant grasp, yet which somehow or other seemed to have the effect of a barrier.
"You asked me a question at dinner-time," she said, "winch I did not answer at the time. You asked me why I disliked James Miller so much."
"Don't tell me unless you like," he begged. "Don't talk about that sort of person at all just now, unless you want to."
"I must tell you why I dislike him so much," she insisted. "It is because he once tried to kiss me."
"Was that so terrible a sin?" he asked, a little thickly.
She smiled up at him with the candour of a child.
"To me it was," she acknowledged, "because it was just the casual caress of a man seeking for a momentary emotion. Sometimes you have wondered—or you have looked as though you were wondering—what my ideas about men and women and the future and the marriage laws, and all that sort of thing really are. Perhaps I haven't altogether made up my mind myself, but I do know this, because it is part of myself and my life. The one desire I have is for children—sons for the State, or daughters who may bear sons. There isn't anything else which it is worth while for a woman thinking about for a moment. And yet, do you know, I never actually think of marrying. I never think about whether love is right or wrong. I simply think that no man shall ever kiss me, or hold me in his arms, unless it is the man who is sent to me for my desire, and when he comes, just whoever he may be, or whenever it may be, and whether St. George's opens its doors to us or whether we go through some tangle of words at a registry office, or whether neither of these things happens, I really do not mind. When he comes, he will give me what I want—that is just all that counts. And until he comes, I shall stay just as I have been ever since my pigtail went up and my skirts came down."
She gave his hand a final little pressure, patted and released it. He felt, somehow or other, immeasurably grateful to her, flattered by her confidence, curiously exalted by her hesitating words. Speech, however, he found an impossibility.
"So you see," she concluded, sitting up and speaking once more in her conversational manner, "I am not a bit modern really, am I? I am just as primitive as I can be, longing for the things all women long for and unashamed to confess my longing to any one who has the gift of understanding, any one who walks with his eyes turned towards the clouds."
Their taxicab stopped outside the building in which her little flat was situated. She handed him the door key. "Please turn this for me," she begged. "I am at home every afternoon between five and seven. Come and see me whenever you can." He opened the door and she passed in, looking back at him with a little wave of the hand before she vanished lightly into the shadows. Tallente dismissed the cab and walked back towards his rooms. His light-heartedness was passing away with every step he took. The cheerful little groups of pleasure-seekers he encountered seemed like an affront to his increasing melancholy. Once more he had to reckon with this strange new feeling of loneliness which had made its disturbing entrance into his thoughts within the last few years. It was as though a certain weariness of life and its prospects had come with the temporary cessation of his day-by-day political work, and as though an unsuspected desire, terrified at the passing years, was tugging at his heartstrings in the desperate call for some tardy realisation.
Tallente met the Prime Minister walking in the Park early on the following morning. The latter had established the custom of walking from Knightsbridge Barracks, where his car deposited him, to Marble Arch and back every morning, and it had come to be recognised as his desire, and a part of the etiquette of the place, that he should be allowed this exercise without receiving even the recognition of passersby. On this occasion, however, he took the initiative, stopped Tallente and invited him to talk with him.
"I thought of writing to you, Tallente," he said. "I cannot bring myself to believe that you were in earnest on Wednesday morning."
"Absolutely," the other assured him. "I have an appointment with Dartrey in an hour's time to close the matter."
The Prime Minister was shocked and pained.
"You will dig your own grave," he declared. "The idea is perfectly scandalous. You propose to sell your political birthright for a mess of pottage."
"I am afraid I can't agree with you, sir," Tallente regretted. "I am at least as much in sympathy with the programme of the Democratic Party as I am with yours."
"In that case," was the somewhat stiff rejoinder, "there is, I fear, nothing more to be said."
There was a brief silence. Tallente would have been glad to make his escape, but found no excuse.
"When we beat Germany," Horlock ruminated, "the man in the street thought that we had ensured the peace of the world. Who could have dreamed that a nation who had played such an heroic part, which had imperiled its very existence for the sake of a principle, was all the time rotten at the core!"
"I will challenge you to repeat that statement in the House or on any public platform, sir," Tallente objected. "The present state of discontent throughout the country is solely owing to the shocking financial mismanagement of every Chancellor of the Exchequer and lawmaker since peace was signed. We won the war and the people who had been asked to make heroic sacrifices were simply expected to continue them afterwards as a matter of course. What chance has the man of moderate means had to improve his position, to save a little for his old age, during the last ten years? A third of his income has gone in taxation and the cost of everything is fifty per cent, more than it was before the war. And we won it, mind. That is what he can't understand. We won the war and found ruin."
"Legislation has done its best," the Prime Minister said, "to assist in the distribution of capital."
"Legislation was too slow," Tallente answered bluntly. "Legislation is only playing with the subject now. You sneer at the Democratic Party, but they have a perfectly sound scheme of financial reform and they undertake to bring the income tax down to two shillings in the pound within the next three years."
"They'll ruin half the merchants and the manufacturers in the country if they attempt it."
"How can they ruin them?" Tallente replied. "The factories will be there, the trade will be there, the money will still be there. The financial legislation of the last few years has simply been a blatant nursing of the profiteer."
"I need not say, Tallente, that I disagree with you entirely," his companion declared. "At the same time, I am not going to argue with you. To tell you the truth, I spent a great part of last night with you in my thoughts. We cannot afford to let you go. Supposing, now, that I could induce Watkinson to give up Kendal? His seat is quite safe and with a little reshuffling you would be able to slip back gradually to your place amongst us?"
Tallente shook his head.
"I am very sorry, sir," he said, "but my decision is taken. I have come to the conclusion that, with proper handling and amalgamation, the Democrats are capable of becoming the only sound political party at present possible. If Stephen Dartrey is still of the same mind when I see him this morning, I shall throw in my lot with theirs."
The Prime Minister frowned. He recognised bitterly an error in tactics. The ranks of his own party were filled with brilliant men without executive gifts. It was for that reason he had for the moment ignored Tallente. He realised, however, that in the opposite camp no man could be more dangerous.
"This thing seems to me really terrible, Tallente," he protested gravely. "After all, however much we may ignore it, there is what we might call a clannishness amongst Englishmen of a certain order which has helped this country through many troubles. You are going to leave behind entirely the companionship of your class. You are going to cast in your lot with the riffraff of politics, the mealy-mouthed anarchist only biding his time, the blatant Bolshevist talking of compromise with his tongue in his cheek, the tub-thumper out to confiscate every one's wealth and start a public house. You won't know yourself in this gallery."
Tallente shook his head.
"These people," he admitted, "are full of their extravagances, although I think that the types you mention are as extinct as the dodo, but I will admit their extravagances, only to pass on to tell you this. I claim for them that they are the only political party, even with their strange conglomeration of material, which possesses the least spark of spirituality. I think, and their programme proves it, that they are trying to look beyond the crying needs of the moment, trying to frame laws which will be lasting and just without pandering to capital or factions of any sort. I think that when their time comes, they will try at least to govern this country from the loftiest possible standard."
The Prime Minister completed his walk, the enjoyment of which Tallente had entirely spoilt. He held out his hand a little pettishly.
"Politics," he said, "is the one career in which men seldom recover from their mistakes. I hope that even at the eleventh hour you will relent. It will be a grief to all of us to see you slip away from the reputable places."
The Right Honourable John Augustus Horlock stepped into his motor-car and drove away. Tallente, after a glance at his watch, called a taxi and proceeded to keep his appointment at Demos House, the great block of buildings where Dartrey had established his headquarters. In the large, open waiting room where he was invited to take a seat he watched with interest the faces of the passers-by. There seemed to be visitors from every class of the community. A Board of Trade official was there to present some figures connected with the industry which he represented. Half a dozen operatives, personally conducted by a local leader, had travelled up that morning from one of the great manufacturing centres. A well-known writer was there, waiting to see the chief of the literary section. Tallente found his period of detention all too short. He was summoned in to see Dartrey, who welcomed him warmly.
"Sit down, Tallente," he invited. "We are both of us men who believe in simple things and direct action. Have you made up your mind?"
"I have," Tallente announced. "I have broken finally with Horlock. I have told him that I am coming to you."
Dartrey leaned over and held out both his hands. The spiritual side of his face seemed at that moment altogether in the ascendant. He welcomed Tallente as the head of a great religious order might have welcomed a novice. He was full of dignity and kindliness as well as joy.
"You will help us to set the world to rights," he said. "Alas! that is only a phrase, but you will help us to let in the light. Remember," he went on, "that there may be moments of discouragement. Much of the material we have to use, the people we have to influence, the way we have to travel, may seem sordid, but the light is shining there all the time, Tallente. We are not politicians. We are deliverers."
It was one of Dartrey's rare moments of genuine enthusiasm. His visitor forgot for a moment the businesslike office with its row of telephones, its shelves of blue books and masses of papers. He seemed to be breathing a new and wonderful atmosphere.
"I am your man, Dartrey," he promised simply. "Make what use of me you will."
Dartrey smiled, once more the plain, kindly man of affairs.
"To descend, then, very much to the earth," he said, "to-night you must go to Bradford. Odames will resign to-morrow. This time," he added, with a little smile, "I think I can promise you the Democratic support and a very certain election."
Tallente found himself possessed of a haunting, almost a morbid feeling that a lifetime had passed since last his car had turned out of the station gates and he had seen the moorland unroll itself before his eyes. There was a new pungency in the autumn air, an unaccustomed scantiness in the herbiage of the moor and the low hedges growing from the top of the stone walls. The glory of the heather had passed, though here and there a clump of brilliant yellow gorse remained. The telegraph posts, leaning away from the wind, seemed somehow scantier; the road stretched between them, lonely and desolate. From a farmhouse in the bosom of the tree-hung hills lights were already twinkling, and when he reached the edge of the moor, and the sea spread itself out almost at his feet, the shapes of the passing steamers, with their long trail of smoke, were blurred and uncertain. Below, his home field, his wall-enclosed patch of kitchen garden, the long, low house itself lay like pieces from a child's play-box stretched out upon the carpet. Only to-night there was no mist. They made their cautious way downwards through the clearest of darkening atmospheres. On the hillsides, as they dropped down, they could hear the music of an occasional sheep bell. Rabbits scurried away from the headlights of the car, an early owl flew hooting over their heads. Tallente, tired with his journey, perhaps a little worn with the excitement of the last two months, found something dark and a little lonely about the unoccupied house, something a little dreary in his solitary dinner and the long evening spent with no company save his books and his pipe. Later on, he lay for long awake, watching the twin lights flash out across the Channel and listening to the melancholy call of the owls as they swept back and forth across the lawn to their secret abodes in the cliffs. When at last he slept, however, he slept soundly. An unlooked-for gleam of sunshine and the dull roar of the incoming tide breaking upon the beach below woke him the next morning long after his usual hour. He bathed, shaved in front of the open window, and breakfasted with an absolute renewal of his fuller interest in life. It was not until he had sent back the car in which he had driven as far as the station, and was swinging on foot across Woolhanger Moor, that he realised fully why he had come, why he had schemed for these two days out of a life packed with multifarious tasks. Then he laughed at himself, heartily yet a little self-consciously. A fool's errand might yet be a pleasant one, even though his immediate surroundings seemed to mock the sound of his mirth. Woolhanger Moor in November was a drear enough sight. There were many patches of black mud and stagnant water, carpets of treacherous-looking green moss, bare clumps of bushes bent all one way by the northwest wind, masses of rock, gaunter and sterner now that their summer covering of creeping shrubs and bracken had lost their foliage. It was indeed the month of desolation. Every scrap of colour seemed to have faded from the dripping wet landscape. Phantasmal clouds of grey mist brooded here and there in the hollows. The distant hills were wreathed in vapour, so that even the green of the pastures was invisible. Every now and then a snipe started up from one of the weedy places with his shrill, mournful cry, and more than once a solitary hawk hovered for a few minutes above his head. The only other sign of life was a black speck in the distance, a speck which came nearer and nearer until he paused to watch it, standing upon a little incline and looking steadily along the rude cart track. The speck grew in size. A person on horseback,—a woman! Soon she swung her horse around as though she recognised him, jumped a little dike to reach him the quicker and reined up her horse by his side, holding one hand down to him. "Mr. Tallente!" she exclaimed. "How wonderful!" He held her hand, looking steadfastly, almost eagerly, up into her flushed face. Her eyes were filled with pleasure. His errand, in those few breathless moments, seemed no longer the errand of a fool.