“Nothing that we did not know before. But things are put in a fresh light. He covered ground himself of which we had only a second-hand account.”
“And he talks of this Bardur?”
“A good deal. He is an expert in his way on the matter and uncommonly clever. He kept the best things out of the book, and it would be worth your while meeting him. Do you happen to know him?”
“No—o,” said the great man doubtfully. “Oh, stop a moment. I have heard my young brother talk of somebody of the same name. Rather a figure at Oxford, wasn’t he?”
Wratislaw nodded. “But to talk of Marka,” he add.
“His mission is, of course, official, and he has abundant resources.”
“So much I gathered,” said Wratislaw. “But his designs?
“He knows the tribes in the North better than any living man, but without a base at hand he is comparatively harmless. The devil in the thing is that we do not know how close that base may be. Fifty thousand men may be massed within fifty miles, and we are in ignorance.”
“It is the lack of a secret service,” said the other. “Had we that, there are a hundred young men who would have risked their necks there and kept us abreast of our enemies. As it is, we have to wait till news comes by some roundabout channel, while that cheerful being, Marka, keeps the public easy by news of hypothetical private expeditious.”
“And meantime there is that thousand-mile piece of desert of which we know nothing, and where our friends may be playing pranks as they please. Well, well, we must wait on developments. It is the last refuge of the ill-informed. What about the dissolution? You are safe, I suppose?”
“I have been asked my forecast fifty times to-day, and I steadily refuse to speak. But I may as well give it to you. We shall come back with a majority of from fifty to eighty, and you, my dear fellow, will not be forgotten.”
“You mean the Under-Secretaryship,” said the other. “Well, I don’t mind it.”
“I should think not. Why, you will get that chance your friends have hoped so long for, and then it is only a matter of time till you climb the last steps. You are a youngish man for a Minister, for all your elderly manners.”
Wratislaw smiled the pleased smile of the man who hears kind words from one whom he admires. “It won’t be a bed of roses, you know. I am very unpopular, and I have the grace to know it.”
The elder man looked on the younger with an air of kindly wisdom. “Your pride may have a fall, my dear fellow. You are young and confident, I am old and humble. Some day you will be glad to hope that you are not without this despised popularity.”
Wratislaw looked grave. “God forbid that I should despise it. When it comes my way I shall think that my work is done, and rest in peace. But you and I are not the sort of people who can court it with comfort. We are old sticks and very full of angles, but it would be a pity to rub them off if the shape were to be spoiled.”