Horlock made no answer. To his visitor, however, the whole affair was now clear.
“Miller must have bought the manuscript from Palliser,” he said, “when he knew what sort of an offer Dartrey was going to make to me and realised how it would affect him. Horlock, I am not sure, after all, that I don’t rather envy you if you decide to drop out of politics. The main road is well enough, but the by-ways are pretty filthy.”
Horlock remained gravely silent and Tallente passed out of the room, realising that he had finally severed his connection with orthodox English politics. The realisation, however, was rather more of a relief than otherwise. For fifteen years he had been cumbered with precedent in helping to govern by compromise. Now he was for the clean sweep or nothing. He strolled into the House and back into his own committee room, read through the orders of the day and spoke to the Government Whip. It was, as Horlock had assured him, a dead afternoon. There were a sheaf of questions being asked, none of which were of the slightest interest to any one. With a little smile of anticipation upon his lips, he hurried to the telephone. In a few moments he was speaking to Annie, Lady Jane’s maid.
“Will you give her ladyship a message?” he asked. “Tell her that I am unexpectedly free for an hour or so, and ask if I may come around and see her?” The maid was absent from the telephone for less than a minute. When she returned, her message was brief but satisfactory. Her ladyship would be exceedingly pleased to see Mr. Tallente.
Tallente found a taxi on the stand and drove at once to Charles Street. The butler took his hat and stick and conducted him into the spacious drawing-room upon the first floor. Here he received a shock. The most natural thing in the world had happened, but an event which he had never even taken into his calculation. There were half a dozen other callers, all, save one, women. Jane saw his momentary look of consternation, but was powerless to send him even an answering message of sympathy. She held out her hand and welcomed him with a smile.
“This is perfectly charming of you, Mr. Tallente,” she said. “I know how busy you must be in the afternoons, but I am afraid I am old-fashioned enough to like my men friends to sometimes forget even the affairs of the nation. You know my sister, I think—Lady Alice Mountgarron? Aunt, may I present Mr. Tallente—the Countess of Somerham. Mrs. Ward Levitte—Lady English—oh! and Colonel Fosbrook.”
Tallente made the best of a very disappointing situation. He exchanged bows with his new acquaintances, declined tea and was at once taken possession of by Lady Somerham, a formidable-looking person in tortoise-shell-rimmed spectacles, with a rasping voice and a judicial air.
“So you are the Mr. Tallente,” she began, “who Somerham tells me has achieved the impossible!”