The young man withdrew and the Cabinet Minister made his way to his study. A little of the elasticity, however, had gone from his footsteps and he seated himself before his desk with the air of a man who faces a disagreeable quarter of an hour. He played for a moment with a pen-holder.
“The skeleton in the cupboard,” he muttered to himself gloomily. “Even the greatest of us,” he added, with a momentary return of his more inflated self, “have them.”
There was a knock at the door and the secretary reappeared, ushering in this undesired visitor.
“This is Mr. Sidney, sir,” he announced quietly.
The Cabinet Minister rose in his place and held out his hand in his best official style, a discrete mixture of reserve and condescension. His manner changed, however, the moment the door was closed. He withdrew his hand, which the other had made no attempt to grasp.
“I am according you the interview you desire,” he said, pointing to a chair, “but I shall be glad if you will explain the purport of your visit in as few words as possible. You will, I hope, appreciate the fact that your presence here is a matter of grave embarrassment to me.”
Mr. Sidney bowed. He was a tall and apparently an elderly man, dressed with the utmost sobriety. He accepted the chair without undue haste, adjusted a pair of horn-rimmed spectacles and took some papers from his pocket.
“Sir,” he began, speaking deliberately but without any foreign accent, “I am here to make certain proposals to you on behalf of a person who at your own request shall be nameless.”
Lord Romsey frowned ponderously and tapped the desk by his side with his thick forefinger.
“I cannot prevent your speaking, of course,” he said, “but I wish you to understand from the first that I am not in a position to deal with any messages or communications from your master, whoever he may be, or any one else in your country.”
“Nevertheless,” the other remarked drily, “my message must be delivered.”
An impulse of curiosity struggled through the gloom and apprehension of Lord Romsey’s manner. He gazed at his visitor with knitted brows.
“Who are you?” he demanded. “An Englishman?”
“It is of no consequence,” was the colourless reply.
“But it is of consequence,” Lord Romsey insisted. “You have dared to proclaim yourself an ambassador to me from a country with whom England is at war. Even a discussion between us amounts almost to treason. On second thoughts I decline to receive you.”
He held out his hand towards the electric bell which stood on his study table. His visitor shook his head.
“I wouldn’t adopt that attitude, if I were you,” he said calmly. “You know why. If you are really curious about my nationality, there is no harm in telling you that I am an American citizen, that I have held for three years the post of American chaplain at Brussels. Better let me say what I have come to say.”