“You are forty-nine years old and three months,” she said.
“How on earth did you know that?” he demanded.
“A valuable little red book called ‘Who’s Who.’ You see, it is no use your trying to pose as a Methuselah. For a politician you are a young man. You have time and strength for the greatest of all tasks. Find some other excuse, sir, if you talk of laying down the sword and picking up the shuttle.”
He looked back seawards. His eyes were following the flight of a seagull, wheeling in the sunlight.
“I suppose you are right,” he acknowledged. “No man is too old for work.”
“I beg your pardon, sir.”
They turned abruptly around. They had been so engrossed that they had not noticed the sound of footsteps. Robert, a little out of breath, was standing at attention. There was a disturbed look in his face, a tremor in his voice.
“I beg your pardon, sir,” he repeated, “there is—some one here to see you.”
“Some one?” Tallente repeated impatiently.
Robert leaned a little forward. The effort at lowering his voice only made his hoarse whisper sound more agitated.
“A police inspector, sir, from Barnstaple, is waiting in the study.”
Mr Inspector Gillian of Barnstaple had no idea of denying his profession. He had travelled over in a specially hired motor-car, and he was wearing his best uniform. He rose to his feet at Tallente’s entrance and saluted a little ponderously.
“Mr. Andrew Tallente, sir?” he enquired.
Tallente silently admitted his identity, waved the inspector back to his seat—the one high-backed and uncomfortable chair in the room—and took an easy-chair himself.
“I have come over, sir,” the man continued, “according to instructions received by telephone from Scotland Yard. My business is to ask you a few questions concerning the disappearance of the Honourable Anthony Palliser, who was, I am given to understand, your secretary.”
“Dear me!” Tallente exclaimed. “I had no idea that the young man’s temporary absence from polite society would be turned into a melodramatic disappearance.”
The inspector took mental note of the levity in Tallente’s tone, and disapproved.
“The Honourable Anthony Palliser disappeared from here, sir, on Tuesday night last, the night of your return from London,” he said. “I have come to ask you certain questions with reference to that disappearance.”
“Go ahead,” Tallente begged. “Care to smoke a cigar?”
“Not whilst on duty, thank you, sir,” was the dignified reply.
“You will forgive my cigarette,” Tallente observed, lighting one. “Now you can go ahead as fast as you like.”
“Question number one is this, sir. I wish to know whether Mr. Palliser’s abrupt departure from the Manor was due to any disagreement with you?”