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?”