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 around it.
“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 remarked.
“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 more stilted.
“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 his head.
“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 for him.”
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 whose 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 visitor.