Andrew Tallente stepped out of the quaint little train on to the flower-bedecked platform of this Devonshire hamlet amongst the hills, to receive a surprise so immeasurable that for a moment he could do nothing but gaze silently at the tall, ungainly figure whose unpleasant smile betrayed the fact that this meeting was not altogether accidental so far as he was concerned.
“Miller!” he exclaimed, a little aimlessly.
“Why not?” was the almost challenging reply. “You are not the only great statesman who needs to step off the treadmill now and then.”
There was a certain quiet contempt in Tallente’s uplifted eyebrows. The contrast between the two men, momentarily isolated on the little platform, was striking and extreme. Tallente had the bearing, the voice and the manner which were his by heritage, education and natural culture. Miller, who was the son of a postman in a small Scotch town, an exhibitioner so far as regards his education, and a mimic where social gifts were concerned, had all the aggressive bumptiousness of the successful man who has wit enough to perceive his shortcomings. In his ill-chosen tourist clothes, untidy collar and badly arranged tie, he presented a contrast to his companion of which he seemed, in a way, bitterly conscious.
“You are staying near here?” Tallente enquired civilly.
“Over near Lynton. Dartrey has a cottage there. I came down yesterday.”
“Surely you were in Hellesfield the day before yesterday?”
Miller smiled ill-naturedly.
“I was,” he admitted, “and I flatter myself that I was able to make the speech which settled your chances in that direction.”
Tallente permitted a slight note of scorn to creep into his tone.
“It was not your eloquence,” he said, “or your arguments, which brought failure upon me. It was partly your lies and partly your tactics.”
An unwholesome flush rose in the other’s face.
“Lies?” he repeated, a little truculently.
Tallente looked him up and down. The station master was approaching now, the whistle had blown, their conversation was at an end.
“I said lies,” Tallente observed, “most advisedly.” The train was already on the move, and the departing passenger was compelled to step hurriedly into a carriage. Tallente, waited upon by the obsequious station master, strolled across the line to where his car was waiting. It was not until his arrival there that he realised that Miller had offered him no explanation as to his presence on the platform of this tiny wayside station.
“Did you notice the person with whom I was talking?” he asked the station master.
“A tall, thin gentleman in knickerbockers? Yes, sir,” the man replied.
“Part of your description is correct,” Tallente remarked drily. “Do you know what he was doing here?”