The Duke paused, in his way
across the crowded reception
rooms, to speak to his host,
Sir Edward Bransome, Secretary
of State for
"I have just written you a
line, Bransome," he said, as
they shook hands. "The chief
tells me that he is going to
honor us down at Devenham for
a few days, and that we may expect
"You are very kind, Duke," Bransome
answered. "I suppose Haviland
explained the matter to you."
The Duke nodded.
"You are going to help me entertain
my other distinguished visitor," he
remarked. "I fancy we shall be
quite an interesting party."
Bransome glanced around.
"I hope most earnestly," he
said, "that we shall induce our
young friend to be a little more
candid with us than he has been.
One can't get a word out of Hesho,
but I'm bound to say that I don't
altogether like the look of things.
The Press are beginning to smell
a rat. Two leading articles this
morning, I see, upon our Eastern
The Duke nodded.
"I read them," he said. "We
are informed that the prestige
and success of our ministry will
entirely depend upon whether
or not we are able to arrange
for the renewal of our treaty
with Japan. I remember the same
papers shrieking themselves hoarse
with indignation when we first
joined hands with our little
friends across the sea!"
His secretary approached Bransome
and touched him on the shoulder.
"There is a person in the anteroom,
sir," he said, "whom I think
that you ought to see."
The Duke nodded and passed
on. The Secretary drew his chief
on one side.
"This man has just arrived
from Paris, sir," he continued, "and
is the bearer of a letter which
he is instructed to deliver into
your hands only."
"Is he known to us at all?" he
asked. "From whom does the letter
The young man hesitated.
"The letter itself, sir, has
nothing to do with France, I
imagine," he said. "The person
I refer to is an American, and
although I have no positive information,
I believe that he is sometimes
intrusted with the carrying of
despatches from Washington to
his Embassy. Once or twice lately
I have had it reported to me
that communications from the
other side to Mr. Harvey have
been sent by hand. It seems as
though they had some objection
to committing important documents
to the post."
Bransome walked through the
crowded rooms by the side of
his secretary, stopping for a
moment to exchange greetings
here and there with his friends.
His wife was giving her third
reception of the session to the
"Washington has certainly shown
signs of mistrust lately," he
remarked, "but if communications
from them are ever tampered with,
it is more likely to be on their
side than ours. They have a particularly
unscrupulous Press to deal with,
besides political intriguers.
If this person you speak of is
really the bearer of a letter
from there," he added, "I think
we can both guess what it is
The secretary nodded.
"Shall I ring up Mr. Haviland,
sir?" He asked.
"Not yet," Bransome answered. "It
is just possible that this person
requires an immediate reply,
in which case it may be convenient
for me not to be able to get
at the Prime Minister. Bring
him along into my private room,
Sir Edward Bransome made his
way to his study, opened the
door with a Yale key, turned
on the electric lights, and crossed
slowly to the hearthrug. He stood
there, for several moments, with
his elbow upon the mantelpiece,
looking down into the fire. A
darker shadow had stolen across
his face as soon as he was alone.
In his court dress and brilliant
array of orders, he was certainly
a very distinguished-looking
figure. Yet the last few years
had branded lines into his face
which it was doubtful if he would
ever lose. To be Secretary of
State for Foreign Affairs to
the greatest power which the
world had as yet known must certainly
seem, on paper, to be as brilliant
a post as a man's ambition could
covet. Many years ago it had
seemed so to Bransome himself.
It was a post which he had deliberately
coveted, worked for, and strived
for. And now, when in sight of
the end, with two years of office
only to run, he was appalled
at the ever-growing responsibilities
thrust upon his shoulders. There
was never, perhaps, a time when,
on paper, things had seemed smoother,
when the distant mutterings of
disaster were less audible. It
was only those who were behind
the curtain who realized how
deceptive appearances were.
In a few minutes
his secretary reappeared, ushering
in Mr. James
B. Coulson. Mr. Coulson was still
a little pale from the effects
of his crossing, and he wore
a long, thick ulster to conceal
the deficiencies of his attire.
Nevertheless his usual breeziness
of manner had not altogether
deserted him. Sir Edward looked
him up and down, and finding
him look exactly as Mr. James
B. Coulson of the Coulson & Bruce
Syndicate should look, was inclined
to wonder whether his secretary
had made a mistake.
"I was told that you wished
to see me," he said. "I am Sir
Mr. James B. Coulson nodded
"Very good of you, Sir Edward," he
said, "to put yourself out at
this time of night to have a
word or two with me. I am sorry
to have troubled you, anyway,
but the matter was sort of urgent."
Sir Edward bent his head.
"I understand, Mr. Coulson," he
said, "that you come from the
"That is so, sir," Mr. Coulson
replied. "I am at the head of
a syndicate, the Coulson & Bruce
Syndicate, which in course of
time hope to revolutionize the
machinery used for spinning wool
all over the world. Likewise
we have patents for other machinery
connected with the manufacture
of all varieties of woollen goods.
I am over here on a business
trip, which I have just concluded."
"Satisfactorily, I trust?" Sir
"Well, I'm not grumbling, sir," Mr.
Coulson assented. "Here and there
I may have missed a thing, and
the old fashioned way of doing
business on this side bothers
me a bit, but on the whole I'm
Bransome bowed. Perhaps, after
all, the man was not a fool!
"I have a good many friends
round about Washington," Mr.
Coulson continued, "and sometimes,
when they know I am coming across,
one or the other of them finds
it convenient to hand me a letter.
It isn't the postage stamp that
worries them," he added with
a little laugh, "but they sort
of feel that anything committed
to me is fairly safe to reach
its right destination."
"Without disputing that fact
for one moment, Mr. Coulson," Sir
Edward remarked, "I might also
suggest that the ordinary mail
service between our countries
has reached a marvellous degree
"The Post Office," Mr. Coulson
continued meditatively, "is a
great institution, both on your
side and ours, but a letter posted
in Washington has to go through
a good many hands before it is
delivered in London."
Sir Edward smiled.
"It is a fact, sir," he said, "which
the various Governments of Europe
have realized for many years,
in connection with the exchange
of communications one with the
other. Your own great country,
as it grows and expands, becomes,
of necessity, more in touch with
our methods. Did I understand
that you have a letter for me,
Mr. Coulson produced it.
"Friend of mine you may have
heard of," he said, "asked me
to leave this with you. I am
catching the Princess Cecilia
from Southampton tomorrow. I
thought, perhaps, if I waited
an hour or so, I might take the
answer back with me."
"It is getting late, Mr. Coulson," Sir
Edward reminded him, glancing
at the clock.
Mr. Coulson smiled.
"I think, Sir Edward," he said, "that
in your line of business time
counts for little."
Sir Edward motioned his visitor
to a chair and touched the bell.
"I shall require the A3X cipher,
Sidney," he said to his secretary.
Mr. Coulson looked up.
"Why," he said, "I
don't think you'll need that.
you've got in your hand is just
a personal one, and what my friend
has to say to you is written
out there in black and white."
Sir Edward withdrew the enclosure
from its envelope and raised
"Isn't this a trifle indiscreet?" he
"Why, I should say not," Mr.
Coulson answered. "My friend--Mr.
Jones we'll call him--knew me
and, I presume, knew what he
was about. Besides, that is a
plain letter from the head of
a business firm to--shall we
say a client? There's nothing
in it to conceal."
"At the same time," Sir Edward
remarked, "it might have been
as well to have fastened the
flap of the envelope."
Mr. Coulson held out his hand.
"Let me look," he
Sir Edward gave it into his
hands. Mr. Coulson held it under
the electric light. There was
no indication in his face of
any surprise or disturbance.
"Bit short of gum in our stationery
office," he remarked.
Sir Edward was looking at him
"My impressions were," he said, "when
I opened this letter, that I
was not the first person who
had done so. The envelope flew
apart in my fingers."
Mr. Coulson shook his head.
has never been out of my possession,
said. "It has not even left my
person. My friend Mr. Jones does
not believe in too much secrecy
in matters of this sort. I have
had a good deal of experience
now and am inclined to agree
with him. A letter in a double-ended
envelope, stuck all over with
sealing wax, is pretty certain
to be opened in case of any accident
to the bearer. This one, as you
may not have noticed, is written
in the same handwriting and addressed
in the same manner as the remainder
of my letters of introduction
to various London and Paris houses
Sir Edward said no more. He
read the few lines written on
a single sheet of notepaper,
starting a little at the signature.
Then he read them again and placed
the document beneath a paper
weight in front of him. When
he leaned across the table, his
folded arms formed a semicircle
"This letter, Mr. Coulson," he
said, "is not an official communication."
"It is not," Mr. Coulson admitted. "I
fancy it occurred to my friend
Jones that anything official
would be hardly in place and
might be easier to evade. The
matter has already cropped up
in negotiations between Mr. Harvey
and your Cabinet, but so far
we are without any definite pronouncement,--at
least, that is how my friend
Mr. Jones looks at it."
Sir Edward smiled.
"The only answer your friend
asks for is a verbal one," he
"A verbal one," Mr. Coulson
assented, "delivered to me in
the presence of one other person,
whose name you will find mentioned
in that letter."
Sir Edward bowed his head.
When he spoke again, his manner
had somehow changed. It had become
at once more official,--a trifle
"This is a great subject, Mr.
Coulson," he said. "It is a subject
which has occupied the attention
of His Majesty's Ministers for
many months. I shall take the
opinion of the other person whose
name is mentioned in this letter,
as to whether we can grant Mr.
Jones' request. If we should
do so, it will not, I am sure,
be necessary to say to you that
any communication we may make
on the subject tonight will be
from men to a man of honor, and
must be accepted as such. It
will be our honest and sincere
conviction, but it must also
be understood that it does not
bind the Government of this country
to any course of action."
Mr. Coulson smiled and nodded
"That is what I call diplomacy,
Sir Edward," he remarked. "I
always tell our people that they
are too bullheaded. They don't
use enough words. What about
that other friend of yours?"
Sir Edward glanced at his watch.
"It is possible," he said, "that
by this time Mr.----- Mr. Smith,
shall we call him, to match your
Mr. Jones?--is attending my wife's
reception, from which your message
called me. If he has not yet
arrived, my secretary shall telephone
Mr. Coulson indicated his approval.
"Seems to me," he remarked, "that
I have struck a fortunate evening
for my visit."
Sir Edward touched the bell
and his secretary appeared.
"Sidney," he said, "I
want you to find the gentleman
name I am writing upon this piece
of paper. If he is not in the
reception rooms and has not arrived,
telephone for him. Say that I
shall be glad if he would come
this way at once. He will understand
that it is a matter of some importance."
The secretary bowed and withdrew,
after a glance at the piece of
paper which he held in his hand.
Sir Edward turned toward his
"Mr. Coulson," he said, "will
you allow me the privilege of
offering you some refreshment?"
"I thank you, sir," Mr. Coulson
answered. "I am in want of nothing
but a smoke."
Sir Edward turned to the bell,
but his visitor promptly stopped
"If you will allow me, sir," he
said, "I will smoke one of my
own. Home-made article, five
dollars a hundred, but I can't
stand these strong Havanas. Try
Sir Edward waved them away.
"If you will excuse me," he
said, "I will smoke a cigarette.
Since you are here, Mr. Coulson,
I may say that I am very glad
to meet you. I am very glad,
also, of this opportunity for
a few minutes' conversation upon
Mr. Coulson showed some signs
"How's that?" he
"There is another subject," Sir
Edward said, "which I should
like to discuss with you while
we are waiting for Mr. Smith."