As the Prime Minister made her escape after casting her vote in the third round of the leadership contest, her demeanour that of one who has suffered a ghastly personal tragedy and wants to be left to grieve in peace, a schoolboy leapt up from one of the benches along the wall of the Committee Corridor, and took two or three jerky steps towards her.
She realised he wanted to speak to her, stopped, turned, gave a smile of grave politeness, and shook him by the hand.
The schoolboy returned to his seat and said: “I’m so happy I got to do that. Just the Prime Minister, the current Prime Minister!”
He did not want his name to appear in print, but there could be no doubt he was absolutely delighted to have met Theresa May.
This touching scene formed an exception to the general mood. The Committee Corridor was more often rent by eruptions of hectic gaiety.
It was like a cocktail party without cocktails. If anything, there was an even greater impulse to make joky remarks.
“He’s going to be the director of communications,” a veteran Tory MP said, pointing at a journalist who is supposed to be close to Boris Johnson.
“Oh **** off,” the journalist replied.
“He’s got the language already,” the MP said.
Boris Johnson arrived to vote with just one MP, Conor Burns, in attendance, hovering like a discreet and solicitous butler a yard behind his master.
Jeremy Hunt claimed everything is going “extremely well”. He added that he is “always an optimist” – a most unConservative disposition.
“Have you got the votes?” someone asked.
“I think so,” Hunt replied.
Sajid Javid seemed perky. “You were very good,” a passing MP told him.
James Cleverly, a Johnson supporter, made an announcement to a part of the corridor which for some reason was at that moment almost deserted: “This is the most unpredictable electorate in the world. We hope to continue to make progress.”
But where was Rory Stewart? Had he already retreated to the cave of Adullam? During the previous two rounds, he had been there in the thick of the fighting, seeking to save the souls of Tory MPs by looking them directly in the eye.
Last night, during the television debate, he had taken off his tie – was this studied informality a late, desperate bid for the support of David Cameron?
And then in front of millions or at least thousands of viewers he hung his head in despair – the emotion this sort of television programme induces in most of us, but not the way to hearten his band of irregulars.
He also made a principled on-air stand against the popular “you can have your cake and eat it” school of economics, by setting his face against tax cuts. He would not peddle the glib insincerities this ghastly format required.
Today, his supporters turned up late. Sir Nicholas Soames, a fellow of infinite jest, was despondent. Stewart himself looked grim. Only his wife, Shoshana Clark, and the MP who spoke at his launch, Gillian Keegan, continued to smile.
When the result came through, he had lost ten votes, and found himself knocked out of the contest. It was like one of those Jacobite rebellions which started so promisingly, only to fizzle out.
Conventional forces had butchered the Highlanders. What a horrible way to go. Hanoverian blood flows in Johnson’s veins, but did he have to be quite so brutal?
We refuse, however, to believe that Stewart will survive only as a mawkish adjunct of the Scottish tourist industry. He will be back.
Another of the defeated candidates, eliminated earlier than Stewart, explained with a wry smile what had gone wrong: “There was a difficulty converting private support into public endorsements.”