“I think for this reason,” he explained. “Stephen Dartrey is a brilliant writer, a great orator, and an inspired lawmaker. The whole world recognises him as a statesman. It is his name and genius which have made the Democratic Party possible. On the other hand, he is not in the least a politician. He doesn’t understand the game as it is played in the House of Commons. He lives above those things. That is why I suppose they wanted me. I have learnt the knack of apt debating and I understand the tricks. Even if ever I become the titular head of the party, Dartrey will remain the soul and spirit of it. If they were not able to lay their hands upon some person like myself, I believe that Miller was supposed to have the next claim, and I should think that Miller is the one man in the world who might disunite the strongest party on earth.”
“Disunite it? I should think he would disperse it to the four corners of the world!” she exclaimed.
The butler announced luncheon. She rose to her feet.
“I cannot tell you,” he said, with a little sigh of relief, as he held open the door for her, “how thankful I am that I happened to find you alone.”
Luncheon was a pleasant, even a luxurious meal, for the Woolhanger chef had come from the ducal household, but it was hedged about with restraints which fretted Tallente and rendered conversation monosyllabic. It was served, too, in the larger dining room, where the table, reduced to its smallest dimensions, still seemed to place a formidable distance between himself and his hostess. A manservant stood behind Lady Jane’s chair, and the butler was in constant attendance at the sideboard. Under such circumstances, conversation became precarious and was confined chiefly to local topics. When they left the room for their coffee, they found it served in the hall. Tallente, however, protested vigorously.
“Can’t we have it served in your sitting room, please?” he begged. “It is impossible to talk to you here. There are people in the background all the time, and you might have callers.”
She hesitated for a moment but yielded the point. With the door closed and the coffee tray between them, Tallente drew a sigh of relief.
“I hope you don’t think I am a nuisance,” he said bluntly, “but, after all, I came down from London purposely to see you.”
“I am not so vain as to believe that,” she answered.
“It is nevertheless true and I think that you do believe it. What have I done that you should all of a sudden build a fence around yourself?”
“That may be,” she replied, smiling, “for my own protection. I can assure you that I am not used to tete-a-tete luncheons with guests who insist upon having their own way in everything.”
“I wonder if it is a good thing for you to be so much your own mistress,” he reflected.