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?”