“Tell me, where is your wife?” she asked.
“It is hopeless with her?”
“Utterly and irretrievably hopeless.”
“It has been for long?”
“And for the sake of your principles,” she went on, almost angrily, “your stupid, canonical and dry-as-dust little principles, you’ve let your life shrivel up.”
“I can’t help it,” he answered. “What would you have me do? Stand in the market place and shout my needs?”
She clung to his arm. “You dear thing!” she said. “You’re a great baby!”
They were in the shadow of the entrance to the flats. He suddenly bent over her; his lips were almost on hers. There was a frightened gleam in her eyes, but she made no movement of retreat. Suddenly he drew himself upright.
“That wouldn’t help, would it?” he said simply. “Thank you, all the same, Nora. Good-by!”
On his table, when he entered his rooms that night, lay the letter for which he had craved. He opened it almost fiercely. The few lines seemed like a message of hope:
“Don’t laugh at me, dear friend, but I am coming to London for a week or two, to my little house in Charles Street. I don’t know exactly when. You will find time to come and see me?”
Here the mists seem to have fallen upon us like a shroud, and we can’t escape. I galloped many miles this morning, but it was like trying to find the edge of the world.
Please call on my sister at 17 Mount Street. She likes you and wants to see more of you.
For some weeks after his chief’s dinner party, Tallente slackened a little in his grim devotion to work. A strangely quiescent period of day-by-day political history enabled him to be absent from his place in the House for several evenings during the week, and although he spent a good many hours with Dartrey at Demos House, carefully discussing and elaborating next season’s programme, he still found himself with time to spare, and with Jane’s note buttoned up in his pocket, he deliberately turned his face towards life in its more genial and human aspect.
He dined one night at the club to which he had belonged for many years, a club frequented chiefly by distinguished literary men, successful barristers, and a sprinkling of actors. His arrival created at first almost a sensation, a slight feeling of constraint even, amongst the little gathering of men drinking their aperitifs in the lounge under the stairs. Somehow or other, there was a feeling that many of the old ties had been broken. Tallente stood for new and menacing things in politics. He had to a certain extent cut himself adrift from the world which starts at Eton and Oxford and ends by making mild puns on the judicial bench, or uttering sonorous platitudes from a properly accredited seat in the House.