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Nobody's Man   By: (1866-1946)

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Andrew Tallente stepped out of the quaint little train on to the flower bedecked platform of this Devonshire hamlet amongst the hills, to receive a surprise so immeasurable that for a moment he could do nothing but gaze silently at the tall, ungainly figure whose unpleasant smile betrayed the fact that this meeting was not altogether accidental so far as he was concerned.

"Miller!" he exclaimed, a little aimlessly.

"Why not?" was the almost challenging reply. "You are not the only great statesman who needs to step off the treadmill now and then."

There was a certain quiet contempt in Tallente's uplifted eyebrows. The contrast between the two men, momentarily isolated on the little platform, was striking and extreme. Tallente had the bearing, the voice and the manner which were his by heritage, education and natural culture. Miller, who was the son of a postman in a small Scotch town, an exhibitioner so far as regards his education, and a mimic where social gifts were concerned, had all the aggressive bumptiousness of the successful man who has wit enough to perceive his shortcomings. In his ill chosen tourist clothes, untidy collar and badly arranged tie, he presented a contrast to his companion of which he seemed, in a way, bitterly conscious.

"You are staying near here?" Tallente enquired civilly.

"Over near Lynton. Dartrey has a cottage there. I came down yesterday."

"Surely you were in Hellesfield the day before yesterday?"

Miller smiled ill naturedly.

"I was," he admitted, "and I flatter myself that I was able to make the speech which settled your chances in that direction."

Tallente permitted a slight note of scorn to creep into his tone.

"It was not your eloquence," he said, "or your arguments, which brought failure upon me. It was partly your lies and partly your tactics."

An unwholesome flush rose in the other's face.

"Lies?" he repeated, a little truculently.

Tallente looked him up and down. The station master was approaching now, the whistle had blown, their conversation was at an end.

"I said lies," Tallente observed, "most advisedly." The train was already on the move, and the departing passenger was compelled to step hurriedly into a carriage. Tallente, waited upon by the obsequious station master, strolled across the line to where his car was waiting. It was not until his arrival there that he realised that Miller had offered him no explanation as to his presence on the platform of this tiny wayside station.

"Did you notice the person with whom I was talking?" he asked the station master.

"A tall, thin gentleman in knickerbockers? Yes, sir," the man replied.

"Part of your description is correct," Tallente remarked drily. "Do you know what he was doing here?"

"Been down to your house, I believe, sir. He arrived by the early train this morning and asked the way to the Manor."

"To my house?" Tallente repeated incredulously.

"It was the Manor he asked for, sir," the station master assured his questioner. "Begging your pardon, sir, is it true that he was Miller, the Socialist M.P.?"

"True enough," was the brief reply. "What of it?"

The man coughed as he deposited the dispatch box which he had been carrying on the seat of the waiting car.

"They think a lot of him down in these parts, sir," he observed, a little apologetically.

Tallente made no answer to the station master's last speech and merely waved his hand a little mechanically as the car drove off. His mind was already busy with the problem suggested by Miller's appearance in these parts. For the first few minutes of his drive he was back again in the turmoil which he had left. Then with a little shrug of the shoulders he abandoned this new enigma. Its solution must be close at hand.

Arrived at the edge of the dusty, white strip of road along which he had travelled over the moors from the station, Tallente leaned forward and watched the unfolding panorama below with a little start of surprise... Continue reading book >>

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