Mr. Smith and his colleague exchanged glances, and the latter drew his chief on one side.
“You will excuse me for a moment, I know, Mr. Coulson,” he said.
“Why, by all means,” Mr. Coulson declared. “My time is my own, and it is entirely at your service. If you say the word, I’ll go outside and wait.”
“It is not necessary,” Sir Edward answered.
The room was a large one, and the two men walked slowly up and down, Mr. Smith leaning all the time upon his colleague’s shoulder. They spoke in an undertone, and what they said was inaudible to Mr. Coulson. During his period of waiting he drew another cigar from his pocket, and lit it from the stump of the old one. Then he made himself a little more comfortable in his chair, and looked around at the walls of the handsomely furnished but rather sombre apartment with an air of pleased curiosity. It was scarcely, perhaps, what he should have expected from a man in a similar position in his own country, but it was, at any rate, impressive. Presently they came back to him. This time it was Mr. Smith who spoke.
“Mr. Coulson,” he said, “we need not beat about the bush. You ask us a plain question and you want a plain answer. Then I must tell you this. The matter is not one concerning which I can give you any definite information. I appreciate the position of your friend Mr. Jones, and I should like to have met him in the same spirit as he has shown in his inquiry, but I may tell you that, being utterly convinced that Japan does not seek war with you, and that therefore no war is likely, my Government is not prepared to answer a question which they consider based upon an impossibility. If this war should come, the position of our country would depend entirely upon the rights of the dispute. As a corollary to that, I would mention two things. You read your newspapers, Mr. Coulson?”
“Sure!” that gentleman answered.
“You are aware, then,” Mr. Smith continued, “of the present position of your fleet. You know how many months must pass before it can reach Eastern waters. It is not within the traditions of this country to evade fulfillment of its obligations, however severe and unnatural they may seem, but in three months’ time, Mr. Coulson, our treaty with Japan will have expired.”
“You are seeking to renew it!” Mr. Coulson declared quickly.
Mr. Smith raised his eyebrows.
“The renewal of that treaty,” he said, “is on the knees of the gods. One cannot tell. I go so far only as to tell you that in three months the present treaty will have expired.”
Mr. Coulson rose slowly to his feet and took up his hat.