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 come?”
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 diplomatic world.
“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 about.”
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, Sidney.”
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