Of the two men lighting their pipes in the little room one was to the first glance a remarkable figure. About the middle height, with a square head and magnificent shoulders, he looked from the back not unlike some professional strong man. But his face betrayed him, for it was clearly the face of the intellectual worker, the man of character and mind. His jaw was massive and broad, saved from hardness only by a quaintly humorous mouth; he had, too, a pair of very sharp blue eyes looking from under shaggy eyebrows. His age was scarcely beyond thirty, but one would have put it ten years later, for there were lines on his brow and threads of grey in his hair. His companion was slim and, to a hasty glance, insignificant. He wore a peaked grey beard which lengthened his long, thin face, and he had a nervous trick of drumming always with his fingers on whatever piece of furniture was near. But if you looked closer and marked the high brow, the keen eyes, and the very resolute mouth, the thought of insignificance disappeared. He looked not unlike a fighting Yankee colonel who had had a Puritan upbringing, and the impression was aided by his simplicity in dress. He was, in fact, a very great man, the Foreign Secretary of the time, formerly known to fame as Lord Malham, and at the moment, by his father’s death, Lord Beauregard, and, for his sins, an exile to the Upper House. His companion, whose name was Wratislaw, was a younger Member of Parliament who was credited with peculiar knowledge and insight on the matters which formed his lordship’s province. They were close friends and allies of some years’ standing, and colloquies between the two in this very place were not unknown to the club annals.
Lord Beauregard looked at his companion’s anxious face. “Do you know the news?” he said.
“What news?” asked Wratislaw. “That your family position is changed, or that the dissolution will be a week earlier, or that Marka is busy again?”
“I mean the last. How did you know? Did you see the telegrams?”
“No, I saw it in the papers.”
“Good Heavens!” said the great man. “Let me see the thing,” and he snatched a newspaper cutting from Wratislaw’s hand, returning it the next moment with a laugh. It ran thus: “Telegrams from the Punjab declare that an expedition, the personnel of which is not yet revealed, is about to start for the town of Bardur in N. Kashmir, to penetrate the wastes beyond the frontier. It is rumoured that the expedition has a semi-official character.”
“That’s our friend,” said Wratislaw, putting the paper into his pocket.
Lord Beauregard wrinkled his brow and stared at the bowl of his pipe. “I see the motive clearly, but I am hanged if I understand why an evening paper should print it. Who in this country knows of the existence of Bardur?”
“Many people since Haystoun’s book,” said the other.
“I have just glanced at it. Is there anything important in it?”